By Dimitra Lavrakas
For Senior Voice 

Helping grandparents raise their grandchildren

Organization supports grandparents with wide range of services


September 1, 2022 | View PDF

Courtesy VOA Alaska

Morgan Yaskus helps give out backpacks recently at the VOA Alaska Kinship Care program's annual backpack giveaway. To ensure students in its Kinship Care program had the supplies they needed to kick-off a successful school year, the team handed out 70 backpacks stocked with supplies to families.

I'm 73 years old, and after taking care of my five-year-old granddaughter Eliza for four hours, well, I'm ready for a nap.

So I have nothing but deep respect and awe for grandparents raising their grandchildren full-time.

And so does Volunteers of America, which provides Kinship Care Services for those grandparents statewide.

A long history

Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1896 and provides affordable housing and other assistance services primarily to low-income people throughout the United States.

Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the organization includes 32 affiliates and serves approximately 1.5 million people each year in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In addition to those in need of affordable housing, VOA assists veterans, low-income seniors, children and families, the homeless, those with intellectual disabilities or recovering from addiction, and the formerly incarcerated.

And recently, when parents became increasingly unable to raise their children safely, whether due to chronic illness, drug addiction, poverty, or mental illness, grandparents and other family members stepped in.

Kinship Care Services

VOA Alaska's Kinship Care program provides additional family services for full-time caregivers of grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews, or other extended family members. You do not have to be licensed or have legal custody to receive support.

To enroll, submit an intake form and family needs assessment, and you will be connected with a care coordinator to create a collaborative support plan to meet your family's needs. 

The following services are offered to Kinship families:

case management

care coordinators work with caregivers to identify and provide services and/or treatment based on the family needs assessment to support the child(ren) and family. 

financial assistance

limited funds to help pay for food and necessities such as gas, household supplies, and clothing.

respite care assistance to families in finding short-term childcare services that offer temporary relief for kinship caregivers.

Why grandparents step in

According to a 2021 Initial Report to Congress by the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, the reasons why parents give up their children range from drug or alcohol issues, mental health and emotional challenges, parental imprisonment, child neglect, abuse or abandonment, homelessness, military deployment.

There is no number one top cause for grandparents taking over care of their grandchildren, said Claire Sharp, who coordinates the Volunteers of America Kinship Program.

"However we do see a lot of circumstances where the children's primary caretaker is just no longer able to provide care and grandparents are able to step in," she said.

More and more grandparents are asking for help.

"We currently have 65 families in our active caseload," Sharp said. "This has grown over the years and is still growing."

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Center estimated in 2019 that the percentage of children in the U.S. whose care is provided primarily by grandparents is 4 percent of the overall child population, or 2.79 million children.

However, the percentage of Native Americans and Alaska Natives is the second-lowest percentage of grandchildren being taken care of by grandparents, with the least being Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, according to 2019 census data.

Sharp said the grandparents come in all different relationship situations.

"We do have a mix of grandparents who are coupled up and single, more often than not even for couples, just one grandparent participates within our program."

While services span the state, they are also offered in rural and Bush communities.

"Currently our services are most used in the Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley areas but we do provide services all over Alaska including rural villages," Sharp said. "Oftentimes, we find our financial assistance is sought after, as well as navigating community resources. We do have more and more participation in our caregiver trainings and support groups."

Email questions to, or call 907-279-9640.

Go to for more information.

And don't forget, Grandparents Day falls on Sept. 11 this year.


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