Amanda Glenn, community education director at McLean County Public Schools, will be starting a new initiative this month for guardians that have taken on the role of a parent.
Glenn, along with Becky Tanner, director of the Youth Service Center at McLean County High School, will spearhead the district’s caregivers support group. It’s for grandparents, relatives and other kin who are caring for children placed outside of their home. The initiative provides support for caregivers to children who have undergone adverse experiences.
“It’s a very unique position that these grandparents, and even great-grandparents, find themselves in, and they don’t really have anyone that might be in a similar situation,” Glenn said. “To have this common ground, and talk about things that may only apply to this small group of people, (and) give them a safe space to talk amongst themselves, find support and have that camaraderie with people that are sharing similar experiences.”
Though Glenn is uncertain of the number of students being looked after by adults that aren’t their parents, she said that there is a need for this program.
“I do know that in the United States, it’s something like three million kids are being raised outside of their home of origin,” Glenn said. “Whether that be with kinship care, grandparents, foster care — it’s an incredible number of kids.”
Glenn reached out to district guidance counselors, principals and the service centers about the idea of starting the support group, and she was met with a warm reception. Glenn said that she has received a list of about 10 families that many thought would benefit from this type of program.
“All the feedback that I’ve received has been positive and supportive,” Glenn said. “I’m hoping that it grows and reaches the people that really need it.”
Glenn said that the group will be modeled after the support group led by Amanda Hirtz, youth service coordinator at Owensboro Innovation Middle School, and sponsored by the Green River Area Development Agency on Aging, Family Caregiver Support program in collaboration with the Owensboro-Daviess County Family Resource Youth Centers, Department of Corrections Re-Entry Branch and the Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs.
“It’s not going to be exactly the same thing, but it will have the same idea,” Glenn said.
A former employee of Owensboro Public Schools and an attendee at previous meetings, Glenn thought that MCPS could benefit from this program. Glenn and Tanner began looking into how to get this program off the ground and how to run it.
“(Becky and I) went to Owensboro earlier this year and went to the August meeting,” Glenn said. “I knew what it was (and thought) it would be great to bring to McLean County, and she agreed it was definitely a need to be filled.”
Glenn notes that caregivers may have trouble navigating the trauma for a child they are looking after while also trying to deal with the emotional toll themselves, such as a grandparent losing their own child and now looking after their grandchild full-time.
“Most often, these families are formed as a result of some type of crisis,” Glenn said. “Whether it’s the death of a parent or incarceration, or … substance abuse, or an untreated mental health issue, or sometimes the parents are not ready to parent. Sometimes, it can be a whole mix of all of that.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is finding their footing in this new role. Most grandparents don’t expect to be a parent figure twice. You might not be financially prepared (or in good health).”
The first meeting is set for 5:30-7 p.m. Oct. 14 at Calhoun Elementary School, with dinner provided by Buck Creek Baptist Church and child care led by adult supervisors and students of the high school’s Cougar Council.
Glenn said that the agenda for the first meeting is wide open, allowing the attendees to feel comfortable sharing their experiences, needs and challenges if they would like to and adjust the structure as needed.
“We’re going to facilitate a discussion and … listen,” Glenn said. “Do some talking and explaining but also do a lot of careful listening and hearing what their concerns, their needs and their wants are. It’s not going to be perfect overnight, and we will have to see how it evolves over time.”
Glenn also has plans to have some guest speakers attend the monthly meetings, such as Anthem Medicaid to talk about untapped benefits and resources for the children that are not being used and a mental health professional. Glenn has also been brainstorming the idea of getting mentors in the mix as well.
“Just anybody that can help make things a little easier for the families,” Glenn said. “Anybody that can help lighten the load or give them the tools that they may be looking for to raise kids again.”
But, Glenn wants to empower the caregivers to take the lead.
“We want the caregivers to be able to guide and mold this group into what they need,” Glenn said. “(We want) to get a feel of who’s all there and listen to them and hear what they want to make this group. This is about them and what they need and what they want. I want to give them some control of the direction that the group goes.”
Glenn wants the support group to be a place where people will be able share their concerns and experiences. She wants to encourage an open dialogue within the group, having others be able to give advice about how they handled certain situations and problems such as biological parents still being in and out of the picture.
“It’s a safe space where you can talk about whatever it is that is troubling you, whatever your struggles are,” Glenn said. “I think a lot of times, they don’t always feel supported because their friends … may not be experiencing the same thing or they might not know where to reach out for support.”
Meetings are planned to occur in-person the second Thursday of every month at Calhoun Elementary School. Glenn is considering holding virtual meetings if the district is closed due to rising COVID rates or inclement weather in order to follow a consistent schedule and to let the caregivers know that someone is rooting for them.
The caregiver support group is open to anyone who is interested in both giving and receiving support.
Glenn asks that interested parties RSVP in order to account for the amount of food to be served and to make sure that enough adult supervisors will be available for child care.
To RSVP, contact Glenn at 270-273-5257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freddie Bourne, email@example.com