Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona (KKONA): Helping Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Support Increased Economic Opportunities and Improved Quality of Life in Rural America
Research Year: 
2005
Issue: 

More and more grandchildren are no longer calling their grandparents "granny or granddad" because their grandparents now fill the role of parents and have primary custody and care of them. According to the 2000 census Arizona has had a 73.8 percent increase in grandparent-headed households. In Coconino County there are at least 1,700 grandparent-headed households and an undocumented number of other relatives raising relatives’ children. Grandparents and other relatives inherit the children of families in crisis.

Grandparents and other relative caregivers range from 20 to 70 years of age and average two children per household. Anger and alienation among family members inhibits cooperation that would be in the children's best interest when they are absorbed into grandparents' households. A grandparent who assumes the care of grandchildren has multiple demands that cause stress and unnecessary suffering from lack of resources and knowledge in navigating children's social and health services, schools and legal system. The majority of grandparents raising grandchildren have not had a dependent child in their household for 10 years or more. They may feel that they are failures because their children are not able to raise their own children.

As a result of those feelings, grandparents are reluctant to seek the resources and services they desperately need. Many grandparents feel isolated because of the stigma of parenting for incapable or irresponsible parents. Their alienation from irresponsible family members prevents them from sharing decision making and support in caring for grandchildren. Grandparents may have health issues of their own, or develop them in caring for more family members. Grandchildren may have compromised health and learning issues resulting from in utero addiction. In the Flagstaff area, greater than 50 percent of the grandparents in the Kinship Kare program are raising grandchildren who have learning or physical disabilities. Many of these children do not have health insurance when the grandparents take over their care. "You think it's going to be the same thing as raising your kids," said one Flagstaff grandparent. "It's not, at all."

Description of Action: 

Coconino Cooperative Extension convened grandparents and local agencies in 2002 to discuss issues and solutions for grandparents raising grandchildren. As a result of this meeting, Coconino County Extension, in collaboration with Northern Arizona Gerontology Association formed a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren and established an ethnically diverse 14-member advisory committee, Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona (KKONA), to identify critical needs and develop a vision to provide better services for kin caregivers in Northern Arizona. As a grassroots collaboration facilitated by Coconino Cooperative Extension, KKONA was designed to alleviate the trauma and suffering of members of grandparent-headed households by offering support, including parenting skill building, advocacy, legal assistance, information and referral, and communication and mediation training. The remedy is education for all family members regarding the consequences to children. A second Kinship Kare conference was convened in 2004, providing education and outreach to grandparents from throughout northern Arizona.

KKONA offers day and evening support groups, mentor programs, an annual conference, workshops, useful data, research and best practices for successful grandparenting. It encourages grandparent families to become strong voices in the community. Outreach workshops include legal advice, child development and strengthening grandparents' marriages.

In Coconino county the KKONA collaboration has promoted the positive assets of grandparents raising grandchildren so that grandparents are more willing to ask for necessary resources. KKONA's participating grandparents range in age from the 40s through 70s. These grandparents break the stereotype because many are still working and struggling with issues of childcare and school-age learning disabilities. Nationally, 42 percent of grandparents are responsible for raising grandchildren; the average in Coconino County is 55 percent, or 10 percent above the state rate.

The KKONA Advisory Board grew from 14 agency and grandparent members in 2003 to 25 in 2004, including Flagstaff's vice-mayor, two mental health professionals, a lawyer, eight grandparents, two social workers, a lawyer, two educators, two representatives from agencies on aging, an administrator from the DEA program on substance abuse, a representative from county government, four personnel from non-profit organizations, and a representative from the Department of Economic Security.

The simulation workshop for area agencies included an unprecedented group of agencies working together for the first time: state-based DES, state-based Aging and Adult Services, Flagstaff Unified School District, TANF, Hopi Aging and Elderly, Hopi TANF and Hopi Guidance, local DES and others. The DES has requested 1,000 KKONA brochures to distribute to clients. KKONA now collaborates with 26 agencies to assist grandparents raising grandchildren.

In 2004 the KKONA program expanded to include a pilot grandparent mentoring program—the first in the country where grandparents assist with education, advocacy and support for other grandparents or family caregivers. The program includes 40 hours of training, followed by 40 hours of time volunteered to help other grandparents in the community, and monthly meetings. The program included 6 grandparent mentors in 2004, and 17 grandparent mentees. Also, a simulation workshop for members of Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson agencies was held-the first of its kind in the United States-where the participants shed their professional roles to become member of simulated families headed by grandparents. At the end of the day participants drew a resource map to identify what they learned about the challenges grandparents face when raising grandchildren and then what the system can do to better respond to grandparents' needs.

Impact: 

Thanks to its comprehensive outreach efforts, Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona worked directly with 311 grandparents in 2004 and with 450 in 2005, which is 26 percent of the population of grandparents raising grandchildren in Coconino County (this figure does not include phone consultations). In a six-month period during 2005 KKONA received 240 phone requests for help from throughout Northern Arizona. More support groups were started by peer-grandparent volunteers in rural communities and are conducted in Navajo and Spanish. Support group participation increased by 33 percent from 2004 figures. Family social activities are a non-threatening first entry point for grandparents; participation in these increased by 48 percent in 2005.

As a result of graduating a second class in the KKONA mentoring program, 20 mentees were teamed with a mentor volunteer to write an action plan. Thirty-five percent of mentees completed their action plan: 71 percent acted on guardianship issues, 42 percent received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and 40 percent cited an increased ability to keep kids safe from abusive or unhealthy situations. Mentor volunteers are facilitating four of the five support groups. One mentor was able to translate documents and court proceeding that a grandparents was not able to understand.

During 2005, support group outreach to the towns of Cameron, Munds Park and Holbrook included 336 adults and 216 children. A support group participant in Cameron said," I gave up trying to find the birth certificate for my granddaughter until you came here and gave me the push to continue."

The simulation workshop had a 100 percent response rate with agency participants in post phone interviews and 63 percent responded favorably to the portion of the workshop that asked them to identify actions they might take to change the system. A simulation guide was published by the UA on CD to help other states replicate a simulation training to change attitudes and make changes among agencies grandparents look to for services.

As the result of the KKONA mentoring program, three different grandparents/relative caregivers were reunited with their grandchildren through the support of mentors. One mentee got health insurance, and learned about other assistance she was eligible for. In another case, a youth whose parents are raising three grandchildren under age 3, in addition to himself, was able to learn to drive to help his family out, and got his first job. Mentors solicited funding for weatherization of grandparent homes and "adoption" of grandparent families by charitable organizations. Both efforts have resulted in thousands of dollars of support for grandparents.

As awareness of grandparents raising grandchildren increases, KKONA found that agencies are more willing to provide services to them. For example, data on grandparent-raising-grandchildren households that was shared with local superior court judges resulted in presentations by the judges to the grandparents about preparing for court hearings. The school lunch policy in Flagstaff was reinterpreted to allow free lunches for grandchildren being raised by grandparents as a result of KKONA advocacy. The program has also resulted in successful reunification of grandparents or family relative caretakers with children who were temporarily removed from their homes. In particular, a grandfather was recently reunited with his four elementary aged grandchildren who had been placed in foster care.

Testimonials:

"I didn't know [my] legal rights. I am now seeking custody. [KKONA] has definitely made a difference." -grandparent participating in KKONA conference "I definitely saved on legal expenses. After speaking with [legal aide] we were able to complete things on our own." –grandparent

"I don't know what I would have done without the support from KKONA. Having just moved to Flagstaff with my 5-year-old grandson, I had no one to turn to and felt alone and intimidated by the school system. During the first support group I attended, the other grandparents gave me the ideas and the confidence to stand up for myself and my grandson." -a grandmother

"I am so happy that an organization like KKONA exists because I had to raise my three grandchildren alone for the past 12 years. I wish something like this had been available for me in the past. I will be a partner with your organization because what you do is so important." -a grandfather

Funding Agencies: 

Northern Arizona Council of Governments; Flagstaff Community Foundation & Forest Highlands; Brookdale Foundation; Wings Like Eagles Foundation; Northern Arizona Home Builders; WIN Oil Company; Walmart; Summit Fire Department-in kind; Hispanic Coordinating Council; U.S Postal Employees (Flagstaff; Holbrook Headstart; Grand Canyon Railway; Individual donors and pro-bono professional services

Conact Name: 
Beth Tucker
Contact E-mail: 
Contact Address: 

2304 N. 3rd Street

Flagstaff, AZ 86004-3605

(928) 774-1868 office (928) 774-1860 fax