YOUNGSTOWN Kinship Care helps surrogate parents
The YMCA program helps relatives who are rearing children to find resources.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The drug addiction of Willie Williams' daughter took Williams back in time: to motherhood.
Williams, 61, wasn't prepared to be a mother again, but there she was, thrust into the job of rearing her daughter's three children, the youngest only 10 months old.
Nervous and perhaps a bit frightened, knowing that rearing kids today is a far cry from when she was bringing hers up in the '60s, Williams cautiously accepted her new role as surrogate mother. That was 12 years ago.
"Thank God I had the strength," she said.
With their mother gone most of the time, Williams worried about the children's welfare. In 1993, she saw an ad in a YMCA magazine for the Trans Agency Integrated Network of Services Grandparents Program, a Family Services program.
"It gave me an outlet to talk about things and not feel like I was being judged," the Youngstown resident said.
"If I was having problems with my grandkids, I could talk to others. I didn't feel so alone. I didn't feel like I was the only one going through this. As I talked with some of the other people in the program, I realized we all have something in common. We're all going through the same thing."
Support groups: The program changed its name a little more than a month ago to the Kinship Care Program, a broader term that includes all relatives rearing children full time, but its purpose remains the same.
Two support groups meet each month, one at the Salvation Army on Russell Avenue in Austintown on the second Wednesday of every month, and the other at John Knox church on Market Street in Youngstown on the last Wednesday of every month. Both meetings are from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
According to LaVerne Brown, director of the Mahoning County branch, the program "assists kinship caregivers in locating resources to meet their needs and to help them obtain these resources." She said there are about 40 Kinship Care Programs in Ohio.
"We service ... [about] 200 grandparents, and we're adding on all the time," she said. "We try to locate resources for them in the community, update them on child care and provide legal advice or any kind of advice they might need. We then refer them to these agencies so they can get these services."
Brown said that they frequently ask speakers -- including lawyers, child-care specialists, health professionals and family counselors -- to talk to the members.
Williams said there is no reason for people not to join, because the program provides transportation to the meetings and a baby sitter, if needed. Also, if a member wants to spend a night out and needs a baby sitter, the program will provide one.
Another participant: "You can always call them up and ask for help if you need it," said Elizabeth Lier, a grandmother rearing two of her three grandchildren in Youngstown.
The third is 20 years old and recently moved out, but she gained custody of all three about 10 years ago.
"When I first got my grandkids, I didn't know there were so many grandparents doing this," she said. "I got to see all these other people that are in the same situation I'm in. This is a wonderful program."
Lier said the biggest topic of conversation among members of the group is money, or a lack thereof. The program does not provide financial assistance.
The program is having a workshop from 8:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday in the Chestnut Room at Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University to help raise awareness of the growing number of kinship caregivers in Mahoning County.
The workshop brings speakers from the Ohio State Department of Jobs and Family Services, children's services and the Northeast Ohio Legal Services.
Topics include "Why Children are Placed with Relatives, "Assistance for Kinship Caregivers" and "Legal Aspects of Kinship Care."