CCPS looks to help students with grandparents as parents

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

Clark County educators are looking for ways to help students who are cared for by family members other than their parents succeed.

According to Fayette County Extension Agent Diana Doggett — who addressed counsellors from the district Wednesday morning — Kentucky has the highest rate of children being raised by relatives who aren’t their parents in the U.S.

Called kinship care, the arrangement differs from traditional foster care because custody of the child goes to someone in the child’s family, typically grandparents. In fact, of the 59,000 children raised by kinship caregivers in the state, 56,000 are being raised by their grandparents.

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“There are a variety of reasons that a child might be left to the care of someone else,” Doggett said. “It’s very unfortunate. In many cases it’s temporary, but in some it is permanent.”

She added that issues of drug addiction have caused the number of kinship care cases to escalate in recent years.

Clark County is no exception to the rule either. According to statistics provided by Superintendent Paul Christy, 17 percent of elementary students in the county live with someone other than their parents. For middle and high school students the rate is 18 percent and 10 percent respectively.

“I suspect many of those 10 percent are living on their own with nobody else,” Christy said.

And while it may sound like an advantage over foster care to have a child live with a relative, kinship care families can face several unique obstacles.

More than 1 in 3 kinship care children is younger than 6 years old. They typically live in less than median income homes and, with many kinship care givers being grandparents, the adults they live with tend to be older and may face their own medical issues.

More than a quarter of kinship care families live in poverty, and kinship care receives considerably less state funding than foster care, Doggett said.

For the past 15 years, the cooperative extension in Fayette County has tried to provide support for kinship care givers through the Grandparents As Parents (GAP) Conference. 

The conference is designed to connect caregivers with the resources and supports they need to overcome the obstacles that their families face.

For $5 per person, the grandparents can attend classes on disciplining children, helping respond to anxiety and other issues, including navigating the complicated process of adoption.

“Every year the Lexington Bar sends about 15 attorneys to give legal counsel to grandparents who may not be able to afford it,” Doggett said.

This year, district administrators and counsellors are hoping to help send some Clark County residents to the GAP Conference, including possibly offering transportation in a district vehicle to those who may face challenges traveling.

The district also wants to create an ongoing program to support kinship care givers in Clark County. 

Doggett said the grandparents often see the school system as a trusted resource, but at the same time they are so far removed from the district that they have trouble interacting with it.

“They’re just very, very reluctant,” she said.

Discussion has begun among district officials on hosting a meeting once a month to provide support, and educational speakers who can advise and assist with any challenges the families are facing.

Discussion was also started Wednesday on creating a network of school counsellors who can help each other when necessary on special cases, as well as share information about events and resources across the district to grandparents and other caregivers.

The goal for district officials to finish organizing the new program has been tentatively planned for the spring.