Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kinship caregivers need financial and emotional support

Filling a family need
Raising grandchildren is a little easier with the Kinship program
Wilson, Eileen. Press-Tribune, Sept. 19, 2008.

For many Placer County residents, life follows a predictable path. Everyone grows up, some get married and raise children. The real fun for many people begins when grandchildren arrive on the scene.

But for a surprisingly large number of Placer County families, the life they’ve planned isn’t necessarily the life they will lead.

According to figures from the 2000 census, 1,600 children in Placer County alone were being raised by a grandparent.

Enter the new Kinship Support Services Program, a support and coaching service for grandparents and others raising children not their own.

The Kinship Program, offered at both Roseville and Auburn Family Resource Centers, is overseen by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Placer County. The program is a collaboration of efforts, funded by Placer Health and Human Services and the state of California, to help families who are raising kin – someone else’s children.

Folks raising grandkids is not a new phenomenon. Kin-kids, as the program calls them, are becoming increasingly common, and are more recognized than in the past.

There are many reasons parents relinquish children, including illness or death, military deployment, and substance abuse, to name a few.

Special issues go along with raising kin-kids. A grandparent, absent from the educational system for years, may have trouble navigating today’s increasingly complex school requirements.

“Imagine being 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years old and trying to understand ‘new math,’ or why a teen wants to get his lip pierced,” said Colleen Johnson, Kinship case manager and outreach coordinator.

Johnson said grandparents or other caregivers oftentimes have guardianship issues. They may not have legal custody of children, and therefore have difficulty enrolling them in school, consenting to medical treatment, providing medical insurance or absorbing the cost of kids who suddenly are placed in their care.

“It’s not uncommon for these families to have grandkids dropped off on a weekend with no clothing, photos, anything from their past,” Johnson said.

Grandparents, of course, aren’t the only relatives taking children in. Aunts, uncles, family friends and adult siblings frequently take on a parental role as well.

“One of the things I’ve learned in this program is that everybody’s family situation is so different,” said Kathleen Shenk, deputy director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council.

“Caregivers stretch over the entire demographic spectrum. It’s an issue affecting all economic levels.”

Kinship is a comprehensive program offering numerous services such as counseling, support groups, caregiving, case management and systems navigation, legal assistance for guardianship, adoption, foster care and more.

In addition, with the help of regular volunteers, the program offers a weekly six-hour summer enrichment class where kids participate in arts and crafts, computer and science projects, park visits and activities.

“They come home with a bundle under their arm – you can see they’re just tickled to death,” Johnson said of the art projects kids create.

It’s a combination of academic support, enrichment and overall play, Shenk agreed. The center also plans to offer after-school tutoring in the fall.

In addition to valuable playtime for the kids, six hours gives caregivers a much-needed respite. Adults can use the time to work with their case manager, attend a support group, run errands, or simply have an afternoon to themselves.

“Just the support group is such an important component,” Johnson said. “Not only do grandparents have a support network where they can share experiences, but the kids have a network of other kids, so they know they’re not the only ones being raised by non-parents. It’s such a relief to be in a group where you can talk freely about your situation.”

In addition to supporting kin-caregivers and kids, the program supports the children’s biological parents as much as possible.

“This program believes in the family as a whole,” Johnson said. “The adult children can come in and get support as well. We want to keep the family bond as tight as possible.”

In addition to the Kinship Program, Roseville and Auburn Family Resource Centers offer a Home First program for new and expecting parents.

Home First provides education on prenatal care, breast feeding, shaken baby syndrome, child development and more, and includes in-home visits from professional staff.

Johnson feels the best part of the agency is they offer so many prevention services, which is key.

“They (kin-caregivers) should be reminded that they’re heroes, they keep their families together,” she said.

The center relies on regular volunteers to keep the Kinship Program running smoothly. Contact Heather Tooker (530) 887-3536 for volunteer opportunities. For more information about any of Child Abuse Prevention Council’s programs, or to make a donation, visit www.childresources.org

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