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Published: Saturday, 4/2/2005

Kinship agency lends a hand

BY ROSE RUSSELL

IF YOU have taken in a relative's children and are about to tear your hair out because you need a break, or because the additional responsibility is harming you financially, hook up with Kinship Navigator.

The agency operates under the umbrella of the Area Office on Aging, and helps caregivers find relief and gives them support to cope with the usual stress that comes with raising children, and the added frustration that results when the children's own parents don't provide for them.

This familiar scenario has played out in millions of homes for decades, and some might wonder why there needs to be an agency to lend a hand.

Most of us know or are related to someone who has taken in a family member's children. Of course it's not the children's fault when their parents cannot, or will not, take care of them.

Very often in these cases, the parents pay more attention to alcohol or illegal drugs than their children. But sometimes parents die; sometimes they simply are unable to give their children proper care because of joblessness or abuse in the home.

In the past families merely pooled resources to ensure that whoever took in children had all they need. That still happens, but our more complex society dictates the need for an agency such as Kinship Navigator, which also helps relatives navigate the social service system.

Grandparents or an aunt and uncle once could simply enroll young relatives in a school or get medical help when needed. It's not that easy anymore, but the agency helps the adults obtain an affidavit to get the children in school and medical attention.

Many people are suspicious of agencies such as Lucas County Children Services. But Navigator releases no information to it or any other legal or social service group. And, to obtain guidance on legal matters and financial assistance from Navigator, adult family members don't need custody or to adopt their young relatives.

The agency's key navigator is Jamie Richardson, who talks about it with so much passion that anybody who listens wants to get involved. Currently, five "Kinship Clubs" provide families support at monthly meetings in Sylvania, at the Mayores Senior Center, and in South, West, and North Toledo.

More than 1,000 adult caregivers are in Kinship Navigator's data base, and each cares for an average of two young relatives. Mrs. Richardson suspects there may be more such families not connected with the agency because they do well on their own or because they are not familiar with the organization.

As a matter of fact, the state estimates adults in 10 percent of Ohio households take care of relatives under 18. That conservative estimate only accounts for grandparents, not the aunts, uncles, or other kin who take care of younger relatives.

Although the issue affects every racial and economic group, it's interesting that no support group exists in the inner city or East Toledo. There should be, and Mrs. Richardson wants to see them established.

Certainly, central Toledo has sites where Kinship Navigator families in the area can meet. Perhaps some of the area's black churches could open their doors to the organization.



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