Grandparents raising grandchildren is on the rise
Finding help in Alaska has improved considerably
September 1, 2018
A growing number of grandparents are taking care of grandchildren due to the opioid abuse crisis that has swept the nation, as well as other circumstances. Of the 65 million grandparents in the United States in 2012, 7 million, or 10 percent, lived with at least one grandchild, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the numbers are growing.
Other factors— illness, death, loss of employment — also threatens the fabric of a family.
“We actually supported a grandfather whose wife had to go to the hospital and who had a brother dying out of state,” said Kristen Bierma with Beacon Hill, a local partner of the national organization Safe Families for Children. “We have families that can take care of children on a short-term basis.”
Safe Families for Children was founded in Chicago in 2003, and partners with local churches. Since then, there have been over 23,000 Safe Families placements and 92 percent of the children were safely returned to either a parent or family member. Safe Families for Children Alaska began in January 2016, has office in Anchorage, Homer, Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks and currently has just over 100 hostings, Bierma said.
There are over 3,000 children in foster care in the state of Alaska.
Potential Safe Families go through a rigorous inspection.
“It’s a pretty stringent process,” Bierma said. “They’re background is checked, they’re fingerprinted, references checked, and then we go and do a home study and safety check to determine their capability to take care of the children. It takes a few months.”
Safe Families provide a secure, temporary, loving environment for children so parents have the time and ability to face their situation without putting their children through unnecessary trauma or exposing them to dangerous situations, such as homelessness or neglect, Bierma said.
Volunteers for America, a nonprofit human service organization dedicated to the relief of human suffering and the advancement of social justice, was founded in 1896 by Christian social reformers Ballington and Maud Booth in New York City.
Its Grandfamilies Network Program is a one-of-a-kind, statewide support program for grandparents raising their grandchildren. The program provides ongoing support groups, informational campaigns, case management, financial assistance, a lending library, a statewide newsletter and a toll-free hotline for counseling and referrals.
“Currently, we have 57 grandparents who have full custody,” said Vice President for Prevention Services Charlie Daniels. “We even have great-great-grandparents. Think of someone who has to carry an oxygen tank and a two year old. How hard is that?”
Daniels said their grandparents do not qualify for day care because they’re not in school or work.
The organization operates out of Anchorage but
has support groups in Homer, Mat-Su, Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Every month in Anchorage the support group meets for a brunch at a church on Boniface. It’s on the same day as the food bank so they can pick up food and come back in the evening for supper and family fun time.
“They can lean on each other for support,” Daniels said.
A little-known fact about Volunteers, Daniels said, is that it’s a church organization – a ministry without walls – that gives support to grandparents of all denominations.
But its ultimate goal is supporting grandparents in order to break the cycle of alcoholism and drug addiction being passed on to another generation.
“We do NARCAN training,” she said, referring to a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdoses. She recounted a disturbing incident in which a five-year-old child in Mat-Su was able to resuscitate its parents and call 911 because of having been trained by the parents.
She said the danger of drug addiction comes from teenagers and young children going the medicine cabinet of friends, parents and grandparents, and the organization encourages proper prescription drug disposal.
While it does not give out money, Grandfamilies can pair grandparents with resources for necessities like a crib or school supplies.
Their volunteers are loyal and very active, she said.
Last year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski recognized Rozann Kimpton as her choice for 2017 Angel in Adoption. Daniels praised Kimpton for her unflagging energy in helping grandparents through the donations she raises from the community.
New law to provide access to resources
This July, the House and Senate passed the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, sponsored by U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Bob Casey (D-Penn). Signed into law, the bill is aimed to help grandparents raising grandchildren because of the enormity of the opioid crisis in this country.
Under the law, a one-stop access to resources and services is expected to help grandparents and the 2.6 million children being raised by grandparents or another family member.
“The opioid crisis is not only straining families, communities, law enforcement and health care systems, but it is also presents new challenges for older Americans,” Sen. Casey said in a press release. “As older Americans respond by stepping in to care for their grandchildren, this legislation is designed to say that you are not alone and that we have your back, with a focused federal effort to providing the information and supports grandparents need.”
The federal advisory board will be set up and include a grandparent, and older relative raising a child and federal agency staff that will find service and agencies and programs that can help grandparents.
Guide for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
Beacon Hill Alaska
General Information 907-222-0925
Safe Families for Children Helpline 907-277-0925 open 24/7
Safe Families for Children provides a safe place for parents to voluntarily place their children in safe homes while facing crisis.
Volunteers of America Alaska
Grandfamilies Network Program
The Grandfamilies Network Program is a one-of-a-kind, statewide support program for grandparents raising their grandchildren. The program provides ongoing support groups, informational campaigns, case management, financial assistance, a lending library, a statewide newsletter and a toll-free hot line for counseling and referrals. Grandfamilies is collaboration between The American Bar Association and Center on Children and the Law.