Parenting the second time around

Kinship Navigator helps local grandparents raising grandchildren

Kinship NavigatorBeverly’s health is as poor as her pocketbook.

The 61-year-old Colville woman has a hard enough time taking care of herself, yet she took in four grandchildren last year after their drug-addicted parents left them in her care.

Suddenly, the grandmother was a mother again – to four insecure and angry children ages 4 to 11. The three boys and one girl had already been bumped in and out of foster homes and feared they would once again be sent to live with strangers.

Beverly (whose name has been changed to protect the family’s privacy) tried over and over again to reassure them, but admits she herself didn’t know how she would get through even the next few weeks.

Lonnie and Darlene Heath of Usk didn’t have quite as big a challenge to face when grandson Caleb came to live with them shortly after his birth. But finances are tight for the couple, who are both disabled and live on Social Security, and other support.

Fortunately for both families, they could turn to Rural Resources Community Action and Kinship Navigator Vicki Pontecorvo.

Vicki was hired in November as part of a state grant program to better support “kinship care,” defined as the full-time care of children by relatives. Vicki works with some 30 families in Stevens, Pend Oreille and Ferry Counties.

An estimated 32,000 children – one out of every 50 living in Washington – are being raised by relatives, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The state, like the nation, has seen rapid growth in kinship care since 1990 largely because of parental drug and alcohol abuse, including methamphetamine addiction.

The state’s Kinship Navigator Program was created in 2004 to help connect relatives raising children to community resources so they can become stable and self sufficient and keep the children out of foster care.

Beverly’s situation was desperate when she met with Vicki last fall. The kinship navigator was able to help the grandmother secure financial assistance, temporary legal authority, counseling for the older kids, food, clothing, holiday help and energy assistance.Vicki even helped scrape together gas and travel money for the Heaths so they could see grandson Caleb win a statewide award for an essay he wrote about kinship care.

“I am a co-pilot, helping them manage their situations,” Vicki says.

Beverly’s load was lightened this spring when the two youngest boys went to live with their mother. She’s also gotten a lot of help from relatives who live in the area, including a grown grandson and his wife. But Beverly’s not sure what she would have done last year if Vicki hadn’t stepped in to help.

“I wouldn’t have made it. I know it,” Beverly says. “I think there ought to be more people like her around because there’s more and more people like me.”