Amanda Smith was four months in on a new job when she received word that her grandson, Christian, had been removed from home. Christian’s mother abused him and his father, Amanda’s son, struggled with addiction. Without hesitation, Amanda agreed to become a parent the second time around. Amanda focused all concern on the well being of Christian, adjusting her work schedule to better provide for him. Amanda did not know, however, the extent of challenges she would face taking responsibility of her 9-year old grandson’s safety and success.
Christian remained in a foster home for 5 months while his parents’ case went to trial. “It broke my heart to know that I couldn’t take him immediately, although I did reassure him that he was coming to Grandma’s one way or another,” said Amanda. Amanda requested legal support and a caseworker assured her an attorney would be appointed in court and that all legal matters would be handled then. In court, however, Amanda was not appointed an attorney nor able to speak to the judge in request of legal help. The court proceedings happened quickly and Amanda did not understand the legal terminology. “I walked out completely clueless,” she shared.
On December 20th, Amanda was given permission to take Christian home, but still had many unanswered questions. A caseworker handed her 4 plastic bags of clothing, a medical binder, and one picture of Christian. Amanda was also given Christian’s medical card and leftover ADHD medication, but she could not contact the doctor who diagnosed Christian in foster care. Amanda waited four hours in the Department of Community Based Services office before she was told Christian was approved to receive medical care and $186 per month through Kentucky’s Temporary Assistance Program. Amanda’s income would not allow for anything more, though it falls only slightly over the income guidelines. “I got hit harder than I realized,” Amanda admitted.
Kentucky grandparents repeatedly share frustration with the lack of support they receive during the family transition. Very few, if any, navigator programs that could offer such support exist in Kentucky, especially for working grandparents. Amanda shared not being able to attend local support group meetings because they were held during her normal working hours. There are limited assistance options for working grandparents too. She pays for two childcare providers for Christian while working afternoons and weekends to make ends meet. “Christian’s needs should not be denied because his grandma is a taxpayer and hard worker with not much more than a GED,” said Amanda.
Since July of 2013, Amanda has handled the transition’s challenges almost entirely on her own. She shares the same needs as many other grandparents caring for grandchildren in Kentucky. “The courts and Cabinet need to re-think and re-write the process in how they handle our children,” stated Amanda. Recently, she connected with the family resource coordinator at Newport Intermediate School where Christian is a student. According to Amanda, due to rises in heroin addiction in the northern Kentucky region, nearly half of students in grades 3-5 at the school are raised by grandparents. She hopes to create a grandparent support group at the school to give families the support and guidance she needed the past year.
By Emely Ortiz-Vega
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