Friday, December 22, 2006

Conference for Relative Caregivers

They raise their kids' kids
Kreimer, Peggy. Kentucky Post, Sept. 18, 2006, pg. A1.

Ernestine Jennings was 57 when she became a second generation parent.

"My daughter is ill and couldn't care for her son," Jennings said. So Jennings stepped in to raise her infant grandson.

"We're older, and we have experience," Jennings said of the growing number of grandparents raising their children's children. "But we don't have as much energy as we had the first time around, and a lot of things have changed."

She went to school meetings, helped with homework, and dealt with the special emotional issues that go with explaining to a child why he's living with grandma instead of mom. "When I first had my grandson, there wasn't a grandparent group. I wished I had someone to talk to, someone to share the problems I was having, just to say 'this is how I did it,'" Jennings said.

Her grandson is 15 now, and this month Jennings will share some of that acquired wisdom at the Grandparents and Relatives Raising Children conference Thursday at the Boone County Extension Service office in Burlington.

The Northern Kentucky Area Development District has been holding the conference every other year since 2000.

"I've gone to the conference, and it's a great experience," Jennings said. "The best part is you meet other grandparents who are doing the same thing. I just enjoy sharing with others and listening to others."

Jennings said she didn't have to go to court to become her grandson's guardian, but many grandparents and other relatives are faced with confusing legal issues and intimidating court appearances.

Census reports show that more than 35,000 families have grandparents as the primary caregivers for their children, said Naomi Miller, human services specialist who coordinates the Family Caregiver Support Program at the Northern Kentucky Area Development District. She also organizes the conference.

"In the eight counties of Northern Kentucky, there are probably over 3,000 grandparent-headed households," Miller said.

The reasons children end up in their grandparents' care include death or illness of a parent, divorce, drugs, abuse, violence.

"A lot of times grandparents are raising children who have developmental disabilities, behavioral disabilities," she said.

In some cases, the parent is active in the child's life, but is not able to provide ongoing care. In other cases, the parent may be estranged from the child or the family.

"Often there is a strained relationship. Often the children have been removed from the home and placed with the grandparents in lieu of a foster home," said Miller.

Grandparents are faced with legal questions, including whether they should adopt the child, ask for legal custody or for guardianship, where the parent retains the custody.

Each carries its own ramifications, including financial implications.

"A lot of grandparents don't understand what type of custody they have," Miller said.

The legal session of the conference usually includes lively question and answer sessions, she said.

This year the program includes a session on recognizing Internet dangers.

"A lot of grandparents don't have the knowledge of the Internet that their grandchildren have," Miller said. "We'll be opening some folks' eyes to how easy it is to be preyed upon."

Miller said one of the annual benefits is making connections with other parents dealing with similar problems.

Jennings said she joined a grandparents group organized through the Biggs Early Childhood Center at Holmes High School.

"We shared ideas and shared problems," she said. "One of the ladies had three little ones -- 2 and 3 years old. You just can't get around as swiftly as you used to."

Jody Anderson of Covington has been raising her 11-year-old grandson and 4-year-old granddaughter since November. There's a good chance her daughter will be able to resume care, but until then, Anderson and her husband are new parents.

"School is so different than when my children were young. It's a challenge for me to do homework with them some days," she said.

"I'm very lucky. My kids have flourished," she said. "But it wasn't easy. They went from having no schedule to having a schedule and stability. They know when they're going to eat and when they're going to bed. They're not going to be staying at someone's house because mom had to work the night shift."

Anderson is 58, and she and her husband both work.

"All of a sudden I had $150 a week in child care. That's a big bite out of your budget. We're taking them to the doctor, enrolling them in school and working full time jobs."

Raising a new generation is exhausting, but it's rewarding, she said.

"Kids love you unconditionally," she said. "It's nice to come home at night and have a little hand hug you. It's nice to see them come home excited because they got an award at school for good manners."

Some of the sessions
* Attorney James Kruer will lead a session on legal issues at the conference, dealing with various types of custody and other legal issues that relatives face when raising children.

* Other sessions include Jack Prindle of the Boone County Sheriff's Department addressing Internet safety and representatives of the Kenton County Extension Service offering tips on preparing easy meals and nutritious snacks.

A closer look
* What: Grandparents and Relatives Raising Children Conference
* When: 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
* Where: Boone County Extension Service Office, Ky. 18 and Camp Ernst Road, Burlington.
* Cost: Free, including continental breakfast, lunch and door prizes.
* Program: Internet safety, legal issues, nutrition, resource information, exhibitors.
* Information and registration: (859) 283-1885, Naomi Miller.
* Registration deadline: Tuesday.
* Sponsor: Caregiver Support Program of Northern Kentucky, part of the Area Agency on Aging at the Northern Kentucky Area Development District.


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