By Dayna Gabler

There’s a joke that says ‘when you make plans, God laughs,’” says Brenda, a grandmother raising her two grandsons. In her self-described ‘golden years,’ Brenda never thought she’d be parenting all over again. Overnight, she went from having the boys over for visits on the weekends to full-time caretaking.

The reality is that “kinship care” has been a nationally growing phenomenon for the last decade. Kinship caregiving is the term used to describe those who are raising their relative’s children, whether they are grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings.

Every kinship family is unique. Parental illness, drug abuse, incarceration and neglect are only a few of the many reasons that relatives often to step in and care for a child. Census reports indicate that more than 198,000 children under age 18 live in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives, accounting for 12.2 percent of all children under age 18 in the state (U.S. Census, 2010).

“Nowadays if you look at the classrooms, you see a lot of kids being raised by their grandparents, so it’s not a novelty anymore,” adds Brenda.

“We all get our children because of different reasons—most of it is because of drugs and alcohol, then you have the abuse, physical and emotional abuse, the trauma of what [the parents] put the children through,” says Jessie, a grandmother who is raising her two grandchildren following the death of their mother. Prior to her daughter’s death, Jessie’s daughter was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which resulted in the neglect of her grandchildren.

“There’s a whole gamut of things that goes wrong and why we as grandparents step up to the plate and take these children into our homes,” Jessie notes. “It is a proven fact that these children thrive better when they are placed with kin over strangers. They do better in school, they do better all around, in athletics. They need to have that stability in their life; they need to have that love in their life.”

Research indicates that children in kinship care experience greater stability than those in foster care. However, many kinship families do not receive the support and resources that would help them create more stability for their household.

Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA) kinship programs have worked for years to empower the community to embrace and support these special families and their potential to provide a positive alternative to traditional foster care. The program provides support groups, legal services, parenting skills education, foster care licensing and adoption support, as well as connections to food, housing and clothing resources, and much more. The program also provides assistance to caregivers involved with CPS, DES and other government agencies.

Arizona’s Children Association’s new Arizona Kinship Support Services website, www.arizonakinship.org, allows kinship caregivers to independently research their local resources or connect directly with an AzCA support staff who will assist them in determining the type of kinship family they are, what their needs are, and the best available resources. The caregivers are also given the opportunity to connect with a support group or meet others in the same situation for emotional support. In addition, the website invites people to share their personal stories and read about those with parallel stories.

Are you a relative caring for another relative’s child? Do you know someone raising a child not born to them? Visit the Arizona Kinship Support Services at www.arizonakinship.org. Support services can also be obtained by calling the Caregiver Resource Line at 1.888.737.7494.n

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