New program helps relatives as parents

At the elementary school level, about 17 percent of students in the Clark County Public Schools district are living with someone other than their natural born parents.

Clark County Public Schools Superintendent Paul Christy said at the junior high school and intermediate level, that number is about 18 percent, and at the high school level, about 10 percent of students live at home with someone other than their biological parents.

Christy said there is also a higher percentage of students who live in a single-parent home.

The numbers in both categories have increased in recent years and the trend is on track to continue growing.

To address this trend, the Clark County Board of Education approved hiring a student advocacy specialist in 2018 with the hope additional personnel could begin to fill in the gaps for the growing needs CCPS is seeing.

Haylee Smoot, student advocacy specialist at CCPS, said when she was hired in December, one of the first things she wanted to address was the needs of students who do not live with their biological parents as well as addressing the needs of the guardians.

The district established the Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP), a support group for people raising a child or children of a relative.

“The Relatives as Parents Program is sort of a support group of sorts for anyone providing kinship care to the child or children of a relative or their grandchildren,” Smoot said.

The program, which began in January, meets once a month, but Smoot said times and dates might change as the district listens to participants’ feedback.

Each meeting begins with an open, general discussion of concerns or questions before addressing a chosen topic of the month.

Attendees discussed self-care, support resources, self-harm or suicidal behaviors with children, cyberbullying and internet safety at February’s meeting. Previous topics also included homework help, transportation, child care and legal issues.

“We hope to have more guest speakers and have them come to cover more,” Smoot said.

“There’s time for questions and answers during the group. We also kind of want it to be a support network within themselves, so that they can communicate, exchange phone numbers, talk about what’s worked for them so far. And then also to let them know that Clark County Public Schools is here for them, and appreciates what they’re doing in raising that child.”

Smoot said there are unique challenges relatives as parents face such as discipline or even navigating modern technology.

Christy said even if they can’t provide all of the answers, they can point parents to other resources.

One grandparent at the February meeting said she had been raising her grandchildren across various ages for nearly 20 years.

“She said this is the first time … that she felt supported and that she felt like she had somewhere to go and could ask anything and express anything and get answers to her questions and concerns,” Smoot said.

Many factors that impact school performance or attendance start in the home, Smoot said, and in her position, she hopes to buffer that impact.

Eventually, she would like to see an additional student advocacy specialist in the district because of the growing needs. Smoot said she’d love to see other programs added to address the specific needs for children of incarcerated parents, children in foster care, children dealing with trauma and more.

Smoot said RAPP’s next meeting isn’t scheduled yet, but she encourages interested attendees to reach out anytime. For more information about RAPP or or other help, call 859-749-9803.