Help for Grandparents Raising Kids
By Dianne Anderson
Admittedly, many of the folks that step through the doors of Westside Kinship Support Services come carrying a lot of heavy emotional baggage, but they walk away with a much lighter load.
Most of the clients Dr. Clyde Stewart sees are grandparents in crisis taking on more responsibility within the family, and overwhelmed with many stressors.
It is taxing them in their golden years.
“That’s not an idea or a hypothesis, that is the truth,” said Stewart, pastor at the Westside Christian Center in San Bernardino. “The majority of the caregivers are grandparents. Some have six and eight grandkids.”
At the center, his program serves about 100 families, with about 40 grandparents coming out weekly to meet up with their support group. The center is located at Westside Kinship Support Services at 224 E 16th Street, between Sierra Way and Waterman Ave.
He said the foundation of their program addresses a family dynamic that can be passed down through generations. Some grandparents have raised their grandkids, and are now raising their great grandkids.
One issue may involve adult kids that have been, or should have been, in therapy because of their own abandonment issues, which then gets passed on to the kids.
Poverty, drugs and incarceration – often in that order – are at the root of the crisis. In recent decades, many parents have been caught up in clogged pipelines to prison, leaving the kids behind.
“They grow up with some emotional damage that shows up later on in their lives,” he said. “They’re devastated by mom and dad gone, and being raised by grandma, grandpa or auntie or uncle or siblings.”
Dealing with the ambivalence is one way that the center steps in to help.
Grandparents always love the grandkids, but they may be resentful of having to do that gig all over again in their 60’s and 70s. They are grappling with triggers and signals, and responsibility.
“We have speakers come in to do sessions with them, how to deal with stress and anger, and how to let go of the anger toward the kids with having to raise them,” he said.
The center’s kinship services receive support, and referrals from San Bernardino County.
Typically, social workers will pick up at-risk kids, and try placing them with close relatives, or whoever else is willing to take them, but he said sometimes even the social workers are unaware of available kinship services.
Grandparents may often step in to help the family because no one can, and are risking their housing situation in the process.
“Some seniors have had to move out of their senior facility or apartment even if they had the room for it because they don’t allow children there,” he said.
He wants local families to know the Kinship Center is there for them. They can access a number of programs to save money, including free food, and guidance on how to raise the new additions to the family.
At his church, he also distributes food bags weekly, and offers referrals to other support services in the community. For struggling grandparents, he said they work with safety net partners, including the Christian Center, Catholic Charities and the Children’s Fund to help with rental assistance
Each month, the program also tries to give kincare relatives a break away from the daily grind.
“We take them to breakfast every third Tuesday of the month, so they can have respite time. They get away from the kids for two or three hours, and have a moment,” he said.
They take all the grandmothers, and aunts out for lunch on Mother’s Day. The same goes for Father’s Day for grandfathers, and the uncles. At other times, they take the kids out to the movies, which grandparents simply can’t afford.
“We do fun stuff. One time we took a trip to the beach. Some of the caregivers, the adults, had never been to the beach,” he said.
Stewart said that he and his wife started the kinship program, following a firsthand experience of raising his nephew as his sister then dealt with substance abuse. This June marks ten years that they have been providing support services to caregivers raising relative children.
Between the support groups, training, referrals, they also have twice weekly meetings at the church, where kinship givers can get a meal so they don’t have to cook that day for the family.
While there, the program covers timely topics and resources. Most of their providers are grandparents with younger children, who can test their nerves. A lot has changed in the decades since they’ve first raised their own children.
“We help them navigate the school system. Some kids have special needs,” he said.
Not long ago, they welcomed one new family, and aunt and uncle, that is raising six nieces and nephews.
Often, he said kinship care-giving relatives show up a little shell shocked, and confused.
“ The support group will share their experience of when they first got their kids, how they dealt with it, what feelings and roller coaster they were on. The support group is a big deal here, it gives you hope,” he said.
For more information, call (909) 889-5757 or see https://www.westsidechristian.center/kinship