Problem: Families who suddenly find themselves caring for relatives’ children and don’t have the means to be “new parents.”
Solution: Campbell County Children’s Center “Relatives Raising Relatives” program offers free diapers and more — and help navigating family resources.
When a grandfather in his late 70s on a tight budget showed up with his infant grandson one day at the Campbell County Children’s Center in eastern Tennessee, he was wondering where the baby’s next meal would come from. He told a center case manager he had been sitting in his truck after picking the child up from daycare, praying that help would come from somewhere.
The state Department of Children’s Services had told him about the center and about its Relatives Raising Relatives program, which helps people who suddenly find themselves caring for a relative’s child.
The grandfather, a “new” parent going it alone, walked into the center that day and told case manager Maggie Inscho: ‘I don’t know what to do, they told me to come to you.’” She asked him what his needs were: “Diapers, formula, wipes.”
The man was surprised that he could get the items there at no cost. “’You have that stuff here?’ He just started to cry,” Inscho said last week. “I ran and got two cans of dry formula from our stash. I’ll never forget that.”
Last year, the center helped 125 families (about triple the number from its first year) who were in similar dire situations. Inscho said the opioid crisis is one of the driving factors behind an increase in the number of relatives caring for children who walk through their doors. “About 75 percent (of the parents) are on drugs,” she said.
The opioid crisis has left many children in the care of extended family members in counties across the country.
Tennessee logs more opioid prescriptions per capita than any state in the nation except West Virginia and saw a 13.8 percent in its overdose death rate between 2014 and 2015, according to the CDC. The eastern portion of the state, where Campbell County is located, is particularly hard hit. The county saw 21 overdose deaths in 2015.
When children there are left with relatives because a parent is in jail or prison or on drugs and has left them, the Campbell County Children’s Center can step in to help the relatives who are caring for the children, Inscho said.
The center, founded 16 years ago to provide a safe haven for sexually and physically abused children — and continues those services today — started its Relatives Raising Relatives program six years ago.
“Our executive director, Tracie Davis, saw a need for help,” Inscho said. “A lot of children were being placed with relatives.” After receiving a $50,000 grant from the LaFollette Medical Foundation to launch the program, Davis recruited Inscho to head up the new endeavor.
The center has six full-time staff members and is funded with a combination of grants, government funds, fundraisers and donations from local churches.
Unlike foster parent programs, where people prepare to take in children by going through classes, and receive a monthly stipend and clothing allotment, relatives are often called upon to care for children at a moment’s notice, without any resources, Inscho said.
In Campbell County, 65 percent of children removed from their homes are placed with relatives. The center can help any family as long as the offending parent or caregiver is not living in the home.
Relatives Raising Relatives clients get a lot of support from the community, coordinated by the center, including donated children’s gifts during the holidays, holiday meals from a local grocery store and donations from local motorcycle clubs. Teens from the local high school pitch in to help at the center’s fundraisers.
In addition to donations of things like diapers, wipes or formula, the center also helps clothe children, offers tutoring and finds resources clients might not realize they qualify for, such as the WIC program. The center is even converting its basement into an emergency shelter for families that need a place to stay after-hours.
The center also looks for one-off items that clients might need such as cribs or toddler beds, often posting requests to social media; center supporters throughout the county often heed the call by responding and dropping off items.
The center uses social media to get the word out about its services. The state Department of Children’s Services often refers families to the center and many hear about it through worf of mouth.
“We all step up and do what we need to do,” said Inscho. “If we can’t help, we put them in touch with someone who can."