Grandparents rally in DC and everyday in the trenches…

Kudos to the grandparents raising grandchildren who gathered May 10th in front of the US Capitol to speak for the many families across the nation headed by grandparents. Thirty states were represented according to Jaia Petersen Lent, Deputy Executive Director of Generations United.

All parenting grandparents are teaching a generation of young people that family is made up of those who love and take care of you. If you know such a family offer to help them by babysitting, sharing a meal occasionally, mentoring…whatever you have to offer.  If you don’t know what to offer then ask, “What can I do to help?”

Also, say a prayer for the many birth parents who aren’t parenting because of illness, armed services assignments, drugs, alcohol or a variety of other reasons including death.


 

Grandparents’ feelings; grandparents’ footsteps…


You’ll feel the collective sadness, anger, hope, and “we can do this” attitudes that co-exist when grandparents raising grandkids get together.

May 10th an expected thousand plus parenting grandparents, from across the nation, will gather in Washington D.C. to spotlight their needs and find help in solving the underlying problems.

Every relative caregiver, whether forty or eighty, lives a Just Do It life.  ‘It’ being restoring childhoods and securing futures for grandchildren whose parents are addicted to opioids, other drugs, or alcohol.  ‘It’ being parenting temporarily, or permanently, infants, tweens and teens whose moms or dads are on military deployments, incarcerated, deceased or are just very young.

Sometimes these family warriors need help. By uniting in the capitol’s plaza, and meeting one-on-one with Senators and Representatives from their own states, or by sharing their stories the grandparents want to focus attention on foster care and other federal funding and policies.

They aren’t asking for more money, they are asking for system efficiencies and equal access for grandparents in or out of the system. Many need legal help to obtain custody, guardianship or adoption to help with school enrollment, access to medical care and/or counseling for traumatized or vulnerable youth.

They want a hand up, not hand out. Independence and dignity is important to them.

I understand. I am one of them. I adopted my oldest grandson, Chad, who was physically abused as a toddler and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) when four. Chad is now twenty-five and successfully launched; we’re both out of the trenches paying forward.

Together, we wrote the book Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users to help others, whether they are dealing with visitations when grandkids cry before they go, or punch holes in walls when they return, have trouble saying “no” to their adult child, or are terrified of technology and drug dangers for youth.

These grandparents aren’t complainers or quitters. But often you hear desperation in their voices and see tears in their eyes. Mostly, I’m humbled by their determination to do what they have to do to give their grandkids happy, secure, and as normal as possible childhoods going forward.

So while I don’t hear, “Poor me”, I do hear, “I’m dying and need to find a home for my grandson.” “I have PTSD from Vietnam and having three little ones under seven makes it worse…sometimes I just have to leave and let my 70-year-old wife deal with the chaos.” “My daughter threatens to take the kids and tells me that I’ll never see them if I apply for food stamps and housing supplements and hers is taken away–so I try to make my social security stretch.” “I don’t want to ask for help…I’ll just work until I’m eighty because my grandson needs 24-hour group housing.” “Melissa and Chavez are doing really well but I feel bad because my other grandchildren don’t understand why grandma does so much for their cousins and not for them.”

Last year 29 percent of children in foster care were being raised by relatives and for every child in relative foster care another twenty were being brought up by grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles outside of the system saving tax payers 4 billion dollars annually.[1]

Generations United, Casey Family Programs, and other child and senior focused groups are spearheading this up-coming May gathering to educate legislators. They need your help.

Go to https://grandrally2017.org for more information about the rally and ways you can help grandparents raising grandchildren by fund raising or contacting your congressional representatives.

[1] Generation United, State of Grandfamilies in America: 2016.

 

New clothes, new confidence for foster kids.

Open by appointment only for foster children, aging-out-of-foster-care youth, and needy infants/children the Bloomin’ Clothes Closet in Oregon City offers young visitors dignity, a life experience unknown to many of them (shopping), and oh yes, new clothes and a backpack.
 
“Only jeans and prom dresses are gently used,” says co-founder Patti Serres, explaining that the rest of the items in their constantly changing ’boutique’ from undergarments, shoes, coats and even blankets and pillows to sweatshirts and shorts, are new.

 

All qualifying youth from birth to early twenties–residing in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties are welcome but must be referred by a school, social worker or other agency.

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The day I visited a middle-schooler was expected and volunteers had already filled a bag for her with sparkly new Nike’s, a week’s supply of undergarments and assorted hygiene items as well as the softest pj’s and coolest pillow.

Behind the gaily-colored colored ‘curtain’ in the dressing room (update 2017:  Oregon City High School’s wood shop class as a senior project are going to are going to turn a large walk-in closet into a boys locker room so that male clients feel even more comfortable) they had placed multiple tops and bottoms that were her size. From them she could select two complete outfits to take home along with a scarf and item of jewelry of her choice. 

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For many kids it’s a unique experience, to have clothes that no one else has worn–and no one else at school will recognize as hand-me-downs from other students.  It’s also fun to be ‘princess or prince’ of the hour and have your own personal shoppers who just want to make you feel special and valued.

Every year three hundred 18-year-olds ‘age out’ of foster care and have no legal, permanent family in Oregon alone.  25-30% of these young people will be homeless and unemployed for their first year.  “For these young adults the difference between getting a job, and keeping a job, can often be our, thanks to a recent grant, ability to offer them clothes that meet dress codes at individual places of business and/or help them fit in with co-workers,” says Serres.

Some of the volunteers, like Serres, solicit donations from local businesses, others do everything from hosting fund-raisers to stocking the showroom and are as joyful as the kids.

Took me back to another ‘curtain’ experience.  A few years ago one of my granddaughters, who had been living basically in a house with her mom and a number of other people for the prior year–but all of her life was shuttled between one parent and then the other as they each cycled up and down in the drug and alcohol world,  came to live with us at age sixteen.  We picked her up many miles from where we live.   Because her clothes were few, and mostly inappropriate, the next day found us in the mall shopping.

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Chad, her half-brother who I adopted when he was young, was then twenty-two.  He went along standing on the outside of the dressing room curtain as his sis walked in and out modeling outfits.  “Too tight, too short, very nice but only for special occasions, okay with leggings, or you look good,” were typical comments.

‘Sis’ wasn’t always happy with what he said, but I remember the pride she took in having her big brother there. We tried to teach her about how clothes send messages, and how people are often judged by their first impression. Self-respect and fashion can co-exist but many of the media stars make it difficult for today’s parents. Sis didn’t get it because survival–not self respect–was her way of life. Sadly, a few months later she left not liking our rules around curfews, and how you treat others–especially family.  Throughout the experience, it was reinforced to me, that self-respect is something learned at an early age by showing and talking about little things.  Little things that really matter.

12065836_10154017072801992_701020676556001271_nPhoto courtesy of http://www.bb4kids.org/

Bloomin’ for individual young people, and as a clothes closet, can’t happen without someone planting the seeds, cultivating the young plants, and harvesting. Thanks for volunteering, or being a foster parent or stand-in (and stand-up) parent.  From you, the kids among us are learning kindness is an action, as well as an attitude.

 

Foster Kids & the White House

Good things are happening on the hill regarding foster children and those taking care of them. 

IMG_2818Last month, I was invited to participate on a White House panel exploring ways to prevent children from entering, or re-entering, foster care.  I have great empathy and respect for the many, many grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members who step up–whether they do so in, or out, of ‘the system’. 

My thoughts are simple.  Give families the help they need, when they need it. Don’t ask them to sit in trainings that don’t apply, or be bogged down with regulations that are helpful in keeping kids in “traditional” foster care safe, but are an unnecessary expense–and barrier–for keeping siblings together. At the same time give kids, and caregivers (hate that term, but there you go) the life-skills needed sothey can get back to being self sufficient, independent, and happy families.

The deal is, most families need a little more help when things first go wrong and then just a boost if something pops up later.   For some grandparents who take over parenting (often due to their adult child being an alcoholic or drug user) it may be financial, for others it’s counseling for kids, and for some access to a lawyer who can help them become guardians or adoptive parents.  At the DC event child care agency leaders, family court judges, and multiple members of the Navajo Nation among others, emphasized that the needs, and timing, are different for every family.  Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a babysitter for two hours, and other times, as complex as providing medical, academic and life skills for a medically fragile infant who grows into a medically fragile adult–while their caregivers grow old…and then elderly.

I adopted my grandson, Chad, who is now rock solid and a typical 23-year-old, but he could easily have become another suicide, or prison, statistic if not for counseling at four critical junctions in his life:

-At age two, when he first came into foster care after a four-hour beating because he wouldn’t eat, by my daughter who was involved with drugs.

-Age four, when returned to my care after eight months with his birth father who, pre-placement, had been identified with anger and alcohol issues.  Post-return Chad was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress when the term was hardly known.

-In fifth grade when he hated his dad, and was constantly angry.  One session, with his old counselor, who knew Chad and who he liked and trusted, turned him around when she told him life is a puzzle and the pieces we each pick, or reject, form us.  She helped him identify what was good, and bad, in his birth parents, and what he wanted for himself.

-As a freshman Chad became suicidal and started cutting. I learned, that unknown to me, Chad had had frequent phone conversations with his birth mom. When she relapsed, after years of sobriety, he became obsessed with death. Counseling taught both Chad and I that depression often masks fear, anger, and other emotions. It allowed us to share things we might not have otherwise said, and gave us the skills to communicate more effectively going forward.

The first counseling sessions were paid for by foster and title four services, the last two by myself.  When Chad became suicidal, I called Oregon Post Adoption Resources, looking only for the name of a counselor who successfully helped other families like ours.  They couldn’t legally tell me because Chad hadn’t been adopted directly out of state care, but subsequently, after I watched my daughter spiral out-of-control.  As an author and speaker, working with grandparents parenting grandkids, I was blessed to have alternative connections and the financial resources (although my IRA was seriously tapped into) that many others do not.

Every family does have different problems, timelines, and breaking points. While some families continue to need the longer support that comes with being a licensed kinship or foster provider, many want, and need, only targeted information, or help.  Kudos to the dedicated people at organizations like Generations United, on whose Grandfamily Advisory Board I participate, and Casey Family Programs who work endlessly, without a lot of public recognition, to bring the issues and solutions to the attention of lawmakers, who in turn, make life better for families when they are most vulnerable.