Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the United States’ observance of Older Americans Month. The theme for 2021 is “Communities of Strength.” Older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others. This Older Americans Month we celebrate the strength of older adults, acknowledging the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities. To honor older adults in a way unique to the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) we will be sharing content, highlighting partners and bringing awareness to the work being done to support older adults right here in King County. Check back each week this month to learn more about older Americans in King County.
This week, in the third week of Older Americans Month, we recognize the important role many grandmothers and grandfathers, older aunts and uncles and other older relatives or kin play in the lives of vulnerable children as we highlight the important role of kinship care in many children’s lives in King County.
Kinship care is the full-time care and nurturing of a child by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child. Kinship care arrangements are put in place for a variety of reasons such as: economic necessity, parents relocating for distant employment, changes in family units due to immigration, parental health issues, a parent’s personal challenges, or abuse or neglect.
Kinship caregivers care for about 43,000 Washington children outside of the state’s formal child welfare system. In fact, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), there are four times as many children raised in informal kinship care arrangements than there are foster children. About 91 percent of informal kinship caregivers are grandparents.
Older adult kinship caregivers are tasked with caring for children at a stage in life when they may not have been prepared to become caregivers. Many of the children older adult kinship caregivers are caring for have had life experiences that may present additional challenges to kinship caregivers, including health, behavioral health and/or educational challenges. Caring for any child and particularly a child with special needs, is tremendously hard work. Older adults often have limited access to the resources and supports they need when starting their kinships care journey, adding to the challenge of caring for the children in their care while maintaining their own health and well-being.
The VSHSL funds four organizations to support senior kinship caregivers who are 55 and older by providing kinship mentoring, flexible funding and training to increase kinship caregivers’ ability to maintain good health and well-being while providing for the children in their care. VSHSL’s funding creates opportunities to offer flexible support and also expands the network of kinship care providers, most of whom are supported through funding from the Older Americans Act.
VSHSL-funded kinship care providers in King County
Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCS) assists with urgent needs such as food, clothing, transportation, legal fees, household items, school and youth activities and one-time help with rent or utilities to prevent eviction or shut-offs. CCS also hosts quarterly legal education workshops in partnership with the Kinship Legal Aid Coordinator at King County Bar Association, to help informal kinship caregivers understand their legal rights and custody options.
Encompass Northwest provides emergency support through immediate flexible funding to senior kinship caregivers in rural East King County who are waiting to be connected with sustainable long-term services and resources.
Intercultural Children Family Services’s Kinship Peer Mentor program supports newly engaged kinship caregivers from African American and Native American communities with connections to other kinship caregivers, referrals to services, training and workshops as well as flexible funding to stabilize new kinship families.
Women United provides kinship mentoring in the greater Skyway area, focusing on services for senior kinship caregivers who are women of color through a network model that includes support, opportunity and community building.