Partnership Aims to Strengthen Network of American Indian, African-American Kinship Caregivers

As more and more grandparents step up to parent grandchildren, especially in the wake of the current opioid crisis, several organizations are teaming up to create a unique voice and education opportunity for American Indian and African American caregivers.

Louisiana GrAND Voices member Robert Brown speaks during a Capitol Hill briefing on kinship care.

With the help of a $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Generations United is partnering with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and Pennsylvania-based A Second Chance on a three-year initiative called Grand Voices: Elevating and Strengthening African American and Native American Grandfamilies.

For the past four years, Generations United has been working to create a network of grand caregivers, GrAND Voices (Grandfamilies Advocacy Network Demonstration), which was launched with the support of Casey Family Programs. This new extension of the program will focus on working with American Indian and African American caregivers. Recognizing the need to raise more awareness about African American and American Indian grandfamilies, the strategic partnership will allow Generations United to provide advocacy training to 25 kinship caregivers from these demographics while elevating their voices to policymakers and legislators.

“Through engaging the voices of Native family members, NICWA hopes to raise awareness about the unique challenges, needs and strengths of relative care with policymakers, practitioners and researchers,” according to an email statement to The Chronicle of Social Change from NICWA officials.

Familial ties are important for both American Indian and African American people, and recognizing the large number of kinship families within these demographics is an important part of this project.

Maine kinship caregiver Bette Hoxie speaks at last year’s GrandRally in Washington, D.C.

“When Native children are able to stay with kinship families, they are able to stay connected to their community and culture,” NICWA officials wrote in an email. “For many Native communities, child rearing is a shared responsibility — everyone in the family played an important role in a child’s development.”

Similarly, the African American community has a long cultural history of caring for kin, said Rebecca Palatino, executive vice president of A Second Chance which works with more than 21,000 children in Pennsylvania primarily living in kinship care. Of those, 97 percent of families in Philadelphia and 65 percent in Pittsburgh identify as African American.

“For the black community, the practice of kinship is not new,” Palatino said. “One in five black children spend time in kinship care. [This project] will allow our families to share those incredible stories.”

Twenty-five participants will be chosen to participate in the initiative, with the opportunity to not only share their story, but also provide input and guidance on policy and legislation. They will also play an integral part of helping Generations United develop toolkits and tip sheets for other American Indian and African American kinship families.

“We also get to tap into their wisdom to guide our policy work,” said Jaia Lent, deputy executive director. “They provide input into our publications and issues we should be working on.”

The participants will also be given the opportunity to apply for a small grant that can be used to help grow kinship support and advocacy efforts in their local communities and states.

Rijenna Murray from Indiana speaks at last year’s GrandRally in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a reciprocal relationship,” Lent said. “We encourage them to share what they learn with their networks at home. When they connect with us, they get inspired.”

Besides the practical ways that the GrAND Voices network has helped drive policy and advocacy efforts, the participants have also organically grown a peer support network, connecting kinship caregivers across the country.

Lent said Generations United ultimately hopes to create culturally appropriate resources for this unique demographic of individuals who have a strong cultural history of kinship caregiving.

“Both of these demographics have a long, strong history of relying on their kin,” Lent said. “We need to be doing a better job of effectively supporting them.”

For each of the three years of the grants, the 25 participants will be flown to events once a year, beginning with an advocacy training in Washington, D.C., this spring. Once the program is complete, Lent said she hopes there is a strong network of competent vocal caregivers who not only share their stories, but also help to change the practices to be more culturally sensitive. In the end, Generations United will also create toolkits and other resources for organizations serving American Indian and African American grandfamilies to help guide them on their kinship journey.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel
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