In 2005, Nadine Brooks, age 50, was enjoying life in Montgomery, Alabama, as a single mom with an “empty nest.” She had a rewarding career with the IRS and opportunities to pursue personal interests. Then, she got a phone call that changed her life.
A social worker from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Child Protection and Child Welfare called to let her know that she was the “last option and only hope” for her three grandchildren who were being cared for by the state after their parents had their parental rights terminated. Nadine, who had lost contact with her son, the children’s father, had not been aware of her grandchildren’s dire situation. Within weeks, she made the decision to take over the responsibility and care of her grandchildren, ages one, three and four.
The state of Minnesota required Nadine to travel to Brainerd, at her own expense, and stay a week each month with the children for a year before she could qualify to take them back to Alabama. In 2006, Nadine formally adopted the three children. She had to move from her apartment to a larger home, get a bigger car, car seats, and all the other paraphernalia that comes with raising young children.
Nadine and the children, Maleek, Mariyah and Marissa moved to Fayetteville in 2014. Later she temporarily welcomed another granddaughter, Kaitlyn, into her family after her daughter became ill. Nadine realized she needed more help and resources and was pleased to discover a local support group, Grandparents and Kin Raising Children, which meets monthly in Fayetteville.
Grandparents and Kin Raising Children (GKRC) was started 15 years ago by Betty Davis who was caring for her own granddaughter. Even with a masters degree in social work, Betty found it difficult to find resources and maneuver through a befuddling legal system.
“If I couldn’t figure out the system with my training and background, how was another grandparent going to do it,” Betty asked herself.
Over the years, the group has grown to more than 42 members, ages 45 – 90, representing 51 children under the age of 18.
The mission of GKRC is to provide information, education and peer-to-peer support to kinship caregivers of children, leading to the successful development of the children and to stronger communities. The group is committed equally to the grandparents’ needs and the needs of the children.
Grandparents face daunting challenges because of age, limited finances, and lack of understanding of available resources.
“Everything has changed since I raised my children,” says Nadine.
For example, many grandparents lack sufficient computer and internet skills to access online forms and records used by the school system and government agencies. Navigating a maze of legal regulations regarding grandparent and guardian rights is an insurmountable task for many.
Kevin Arthur, chairman of the board of directors for GKRC, understands intimately the frustrations of grandparents caring for children. He and wife, Mary, have been raising their 10-year-old granddaughter, also named Mary, since she was two years old. Even though they are her legal guardians, Kevin and Mary learned they could not add Mary to their medical insurance policy. Getting her passport renewed was another legal quagmire.
“The hurdles never stop,” remarks Kevin.
Both retired, Kevin and Mary faced additional challenges when Kevin was seriously injured in a bicycle accident three years ago, breaking his neck and leaving him a quadriplegic. Mary is now his full-time caregiver as they both continue to raise their granddaughter. But Mary’s eyes shine when she speaks of their granddaughter’s concern for Kevin.
“Mary is amazing with Kevin and helps with his care. We all work together as a family,” she says.
Kevin and the rest of the board of GKRC are creating a “tool kit” that contains a variety of resources for the grandparents in their group.
“All our members have different needs and need different tools to navigate the system,” says Kevin. “We want to give them a starting place to find the help they need.”
One of the best services Georgia offers to grandparents is the Department of Human Services, Division of Family & Children Services, Kinship Navigator Program. This program is a “one-stop shop” to help kinship caregivers understand and gain access to available programs and services.
GKRC is fortunate to have on their board of directors Angelica Cope, a Kinship Care Navigator for Region 4, which includes Fayette County. As a Kinship Navigator, Angelica sees herself as her clients advocate.
“I serve as a voice for our grandparents and other relatives who are raising children,” says Angelica. “… My goal is to prevent children from entering into the foster care (CPS) systems when appropriate. l walk the relatives through the process, and make sure they obtain the resources they need to provide a stable and a safe environment for our Georgia children.”
Grandparents and Kin Raising Children meets the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month from 9 to 11 a.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 819 Highway 314, Fayetteville. For more information, visit grandparentsandkin.com, contact Kevin Arthur at 862-444-5185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the Numbers:
- Almost 7.8 MILLION children are living in homes of grandparents or other relatives in the U.S. (U.S. Census, 2010)
- 2. 7 MILLION grandparents in the U.S. are the primary caregivers to children in their homes. (Kinship Care)
- 51% of grandparents who have grandkids living with them are white; 24% are Black/African American, and 19% are Hispanic/Latino, an indicator of the broad swath of families, in all socio-economic categories, who have been affected by this issue. (AARP)
- In Georgia over 100,000 children are living with grandparents/kin and extrapolated numbers indicate approximately 1,200 children in Fayette County are living with grandparents/kin. (U.S. Census)
- Georgia has the 6TH HIGHEST number of children in kinship care in the U.S. (Kinship Care)
- Grandparent households, consisting of grandparents and grandchildren only, are FREQUENTLY the result of parental substance abuse, incarceration, death, mental illness, or child neglect. (Population Reference Bureau)
- 69% of grandparents raising grandchildren are under AGE 60. (Kinship Care)
- 25% of grandparents raising grandchildren are living in poverty. (Kinship Care)
- $4 BILLION is the amount of money saved by taxpayers, thanks to grandparents keeping children out of the foster care system. (Kinship Care)