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  • Grandparents raising their grandkids find support among peers

    1 posts, 1 voices, 320 views, started Dec 15, 2008

    Posted on Monday, December 15, 2008


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      Grandparents raising their grandkids find support among peers
      Atlantic Street Center and Senior Services are among 13 agencies that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy — now in its 30th year.

      By Marc Ramirez
      Seattle Times staff reporter
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      Vilma Carver is raising her grandchildren after their mother died.
      Learn more about The Fund For The Needy
      Donate online
      Seattle Times Fund for the Needy
      THE CAMPAIGN, benefiting 13 agencies, is now in its 30th year.
      Senior Services: Provides resource referral and caregiver support to about 55,000 clients in King County, nearly half of them low-income. The 41-year-old agency, best known for its Meals on Wheels program, has an annual budget of $15 million.

      Atlantic Street Center: Focuses on youth and their families, providing mental-health counseling, after-school tutoring, English classes and more. Serves about 3,000 mostly low-income people. Founded in 1910, the agency has a $3.2 million budget.

      Source: Senior Services, Atlantic Street Center

      VILMA CARVER WAS used to spending lots of time with her grandkids, but when their mother died unexpectedly at age 29, she suddenly found herself doing it full time.

      Since then, the diminutive hotel service worker has had to relearn how to juggle child-rearing with work schedules and maintaining a home. Her Beacon Hill house remains strewn with items and boxes she’s been meaning to send to relatives in the Philippines.

      “It’s as if I started all over again,” says Carver, who now raises Kirsten, 15, and Rusty, 10. “I feel like I have no life. My life is them.”

      Were it not for the grandparents’ kinship group she was part of, she might have lost it. The group of fellow grandparents raising children, hosted by Seattle’s Atlantic Street Center and supported by Senior Services, gave her a circle of people she could confide in. “Whatever is in here,” she says, covering her heart, “you can tell to them, because all of you have problems.”

      Both Atlantic Street Center and Senior Services benefit from The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy — now in its 30th year — and are members of the King County Kinship Collaboration (KCKC). According to the group, more than 18,000 people in King County are raising other relatives’ children. Many are grandparents such as Carver, who left her native Philippines in 1995 and now, at 58, raises her grandchildren with the help of her boyfriend.

      U.S. Census figures indicate that about 2.5 million grandparents nationwide provide most basic needs for one or more grandchildren. For such caregivers, the challenges go beyond personal and logistical ones.

      There is bureaucracy to deal with — for example, how to enroll kids in school as neither parent nor legal guardian. And because many grandparents don’t have legal custody, estranged parents can re-emerge at any time, causing even more stress.

      Then, the financial challenges: Most of the program’s grandparents are caring for more than one child while living on a fixed income. Many have found themselves unable to apply for state funds because the money has already been awarded to parents who apply, then dump the kids on their relatives.

      “These are parents who are parenting the second time around,” says program assistant Fai Matthews of Atlantic Street Center, which hosts the weekly grandparent get-togethers.

      “A lot give up much of their lives and time to take care of these children, and they don’t get any help. They‘re spending all this extra money for water, electricity and food. So they find themselves in some really dire straits. Some go to food banks. Some lose their homes. It’s a great, great struggle.”

      As the agency with the largest number of kinship caregivers, Atlantic Street Center hosts the weekly grandparents’ group at the Rainier Community Center.

      On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, Carver and about 15 to 25 other grandparents showed up for what was meant to be a traditional turkey meal. But when the cook called in sick, Matthews quickly grilled up some chicken and bratwursts, threw together some mashed potatoes and deviled eggs, and the group was good to go.

      Alternating weeks feature guest speakers — counselors, legal advisers — while the rest of the time, Matthews holds roundtables on random topics. “Last week we talked about Obama’s presidency and what it means for them and their children,” she says.

      Matthews herself has been both a foster parent and a kinship caregiver, having helped raise her nephew from the time he was 3. (He’s now 23.) And she knows firsthand the drive that leads these elders to rise to the occasion: When her daughter’s marriage splintered, Matthews took her in, along with the grandkids.

      “I ended up $20,000 in debt,” she says. “... They had nowhere to go. But it was more important to take care of these kids and my daughter than it was the material things. It was automatic pilot for Mama.”

      Similar situations spawned Senior Services’ efforts, which now encompass about 500 people annually of many ages — anyone caring for a related child not his or her own.

      There are aunts caring for nieces and nephews, cousins caring for cousins. Atlantic Street Center, meanwhile, had run a grandparents’ group since the mid-1990s, but eventually, Matthews says, “we realized that the grandparents had all these kids they were caring for.”

      Thus was born King County Kinship Collaboration grandparents’ group. “Sometimes we‘re just offering respite for the grandparents,” says Senior Services’ Greg Townsend, who oversees that agency’s caregiver outreach and support program. “They’ll burn out if they don’t get some time just to be with another adult.”

      None receive the type of financial help that foster parents do, he notes, though they often share the same responsibilities.

      Foster parents, on average, get $550 per child monthly, along with health coverage and child care. People caring for other relatives’ children, on the other hand, must apply for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds, which amount to much less and don’t include child care.

      The county kinship group administers a support fund of about $200,000 to help these grandparents and other caregivers with onetime expenses such as clothing, extra beds or a rent payment.

      “A lot of these grandparents are in serious pain,” Matthews says. “With the economy the way it is, it’s even more serious.”

      Agencies are hurting, too. While certain funding sources are holding steady, Senior Services Executive Director Denise Klein says some private foundations have already signaled they won’t be able to give as much this year.

      Atlantic Street Center’s Darcy McInnis says the agency won’t know what cuts are necessary until next year’s grant process.

      In the meantime, Carver finds joy in attending her granddaughter’s performances with a Filipino dance group.

      “At least whatever struggle I have, when they have a concert, I feel good,” she says.

      But when things get hard, she can count on the grandparents’ group. After her daughter died, she was a mess. Other group members helped her get through it.

      “They were there every night, praying and holding hands with me,” she says. “They are like family.”

      Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or [Link Removed]

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