October 27, 2010
Unfortunately, despite the growing number of “grandfamilies” in the United States (more than 2.5 million grandparents are primarily responsible for a child), few people outside of those directly affected are educated about the challenges these families face. To combat this lack of awareness, some states have enacted kinship navigator programs to offer assistance and support to kinship caregivers. Currently, there are programs of some sort in New Jersey, Ohio, Washington, Connecticut, and New York. Other states don’t have statute-established programs, but still offer programs with similar functions.The purpose of a kinship navigator program is to educate grandparents on the benefits and services that are available, with follow-ups to ensure that the families receive as much continual support as possible. As many kinship caregivers have discovered, there are many legal issues involved with caring for a grandchild. These programs “navigate” the murky legal waters of the issue and help families access the health insurance and grants that they desperately need.Ohio’s program, one of the earliest, is offered as a service by the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio. Each month, the group sends out a newsletter with upcoming events, spotlights on local grandparents in the community, and articles for grandparents on how to connect with their younger grandchildren, especially when talking about difficult subjects like sex and drugs.The most important function of these navigator programs is in reminding grandparents that they are not alone. As mentioned above, the number of families living in this arrangement is growing, and each one can benefit from a sense of connection, whether it’s a helping hand or just a listening ear. If you live in a state without an official kinship navigator program, talk to your local representatives to see what can be accomplished.