Did you know that 70,000 children in Arizona, or 4 percent, are being raised by their grandparents? Closer to home, in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, that figure is 24 percent.
On May 30, the SRPMIC Senior Services Department held a forum at the Community Building regarding the rights of grandparents and other relatives who are serving as the primary caregivers for children. The purpose of the forum was to provide Community members with an opportunity to share their thoughts, ideas, concerns, issues and suggestions in situations where children are being raised either by grandparents or other relatives in the family.
Close to 70 grandparents and concerned family members attended the forum. Staff from the SRPMIC Recreation Department provided childcare, allowing the family caregivers the opportunity to attend the forum. A buffet-style dinner was catered for the event.
When it came time to start, Tamara Luckett, director of SRPMIC Senior Services, welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending.
We wanted to gather information about supportive services that would benefit grandparents and relative caregivers in the Community and about gaps in services or support for this population,” said Luckett. “There has been discussion of a ‘Grandparent’s Bill of Rights,’ and the hope for this forum was to gather information to assist tribal government departments, executive administration and Council with next steps in planning.”
The presentations included remarks by Dana Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance (CAA), a statewide advocacy organization for children. Naimark has been working for 20 years to educate caregivers and influence policymakers to improve children’s health, education and security.
“I am pleased to work with the Community once again,” said Naimark. “[Grandparents raising their grandchildren] is a growing trend throughout the state, and I thank every one of you for what you do and thank you for stepping up to the plate and raising your grandchildren or relatives.”
During the forum, attendees were divided into groups at different tables and asked to answer a number of questions on grandparents and caregiver rights. The groups had five minutes to discuss and come up with an answer or suggestion to address the question. SRPMIC social workers, and staff were present at each table to help facilitate the discussions. Naimark helped keep everyone on track and provided input where needed.
Here are a few of the questions asked at the forum:
One question asked was “What do you feel is your role as a grandparent or relative caregiver, and what does it mean to you?”
Many tables were buzzing with discussion on this question. One individual answered for his table, saying that caregivers are providers and teachers who teach the children the [Community] history and provide security.
Another person talked about raising his nephews to become responsible Community members and to have them break the negative cycle that they have been placed in.
One grandparent shared that his role is to cherish, help develop and train his grandchildren, to be there and to hold the grandchildren when they cry, and to explain why their parents are not there participating but to reassure the grandchildren that their parents still have love for them.
Next, participants were asked if they knew what services were available for caregiver support.
Many named only a few, but several people named new programs many of the others had never heard of. Another participant shared that caregivers needed to be wary, because many of the services have restrictions and this particular caregiver had to seek outside help.
Naimark asked how many caregivers had applied for the different support services, and, if they were denied, what did they do to find other resources. Answers included using the newspaper, Internet and other services.
Next they were asked about the challenges they experienced as a grandparent/relative caregiver.
Many attendees compared caregiving to an emotional roller coaster. The children always have needs, and sometimes the caregiver has to take time off from work to tend to them. Many caregivers don’t have transportation, and a lot said they didn’t have too much financial support. They felt that there was not enough information on the adoption process or the policies and procedures for obtaining guardianship or visitation rights.
Many in the forum brought up that their grandchildren had been denied for support services because the grandparent(s) did not have full custody, so they were not recognized. Many individuals also were concerned with basic rights of the child and grandparent/caregiver, asking for more legal assistance and advocacy for grandparents and caregivers.
“Currently there aren’t any grandparent rights here in Salt River,” said Assistant Community Manager Lena Jackson. “That is what this forum is for, to develop something that can work for all grandparents and relative caregivers.”
Also discussed was what training the staff members in SRPMIC departments should receive. One grandparent stated that there needed to be more social workers to cover the amount of children in the Community. All participants suggested that workers including judges needed to be trained about the cultural side of family involvement and on how the Community itself handles issues. Each consideration and comments that were written down were turned in at the end of the forum.
The next Grandparents’/Relative Caregivers’ Rights Forum Follow-up, will be held on Tuesday, August 20 at the Community Building from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, contact Salt River Senior Services at (480) 362-7979.