The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

December 11, 2011

Families receive help as they raise other people’s children

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — As a great-grandmother kept a close eye on her newly minted family,Kinship workers were preparing dozens of families for a special Christmas evening.

Esther Baird of Geneva recently took in her three great-grandchildren and is getting used to being a mother – again.

“I think it is wonderful,” Baird said of the Ashtabula County Children Services Kinship program that works to support families who are caring for children.

The program started almost three years ago with a federal grant designed to build a self-supporting permanent program for families dealing caring for relatives’, or close friends’, children, said Kathryn Whittington, community services coordinator for ACCS.

“If we didn’t have this happening, I don’t know what I’d do,” said Melissa Baldwin of Hartsgrove Township, who has custody of her two grandsons. She said the organization helped her family through the paperwork maze that begins when the custody process begins and seems to go on forever.

“I’m here almost every month,” Baldwin said.

Jasmine Hopson, a part time Kinship case worker, and Danielle Root, a newly hired full-time Kinship case worker, work with 400 families.

She said the organization meets from 5:30 to 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at ACCS offices at the Donahoe Center.

Hopson said a speaker is a part of the monthly program so families can receive information from a variety of professionals relating to the care of children.

“Our next meeting will be a magistrate,” Hopson said.

Hopson said there are also some programs that provide limited financial help for families stepping into the breach to care for children. She said it is sometimes difficult for grandparents with added financial burdens and the evaluation of their own parenting skills.

“A lot of them (grandparents) seem very emotional because they feel like the haven’t done a good job (with their own children),” Hopson said.

While the kids do a craft or activity the caregivers meet in a separate room. She said there are small groups where information, and feelings, are shared.

“We have a directory so they have each other’s phone numbers,” Hopson said of relationships that continue outside the monthly meetings.

Tammy Nelson, also a grandmother, who is raising a six- year-old boy, said the organization helps advocate for her.

“That’s really huge. I think everybody finds out information from each other,” she said.

The Kinship program also supports people who have gained custody of children to whom they are not biologically related.

Chris Shaffer of Ashtabula said Kinship has been very helpful. He said they adopted a child they knew, but was not biologically related.

 “We used to babysit (the boy),” Shaffer said.

“It’s been great. He fits right in with the family,” he said.

Herb Witt, president of the Kinship program, became involved two years ago when his sister died and Dakota Witt, then 5, became a part of the family.

“I had all this paper work,” he said of the first of many challenges in dealing with different aspects of the social service system.

“We found all the things they (Kinship) can come up with to help you,” Witt said.

Whittington said the grant will end in 2012, a seven-county cooperative venture, but the group will continue.

“The group is becoming self-sufficient through fundraisers,” she said.

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