GAP Program Strives to Partner with Families
Allen and Misty, married for 22 years, received a life-altering call late one evening in spring 2018. Their oldest daughter and her husband had been arrested and would be unable to care for their two young children, Josiah and Clay. After a long night of worrying and waiting, Allen and Misty received word they could take the boys home. That was on April 1, 2018, and their grandchildren have been with them ever since.
The family found themselves in a challenging situation that many grandparents are experiencing today as they suddenly become the primary caretakers of their grandchildren. According to census data gathered in 2017, 11.7 percent of children under 18 in Texas live with grandparents or other relatives. In New Mexico, the number of children living with grandparents or other relatives is 12.7 percent.
Methodist Children’s Home recognized this growing trend back in 2006 when it discovered a large number of children in the MCH residential program were coming from homes led by grandparents. As a result, MCH began a program for grandparent caretakers through its community services department. Since then the program has grown to become the Gap program, offered through all 13 MCH Family Outreach offices in Texas and New Mexico. It was recently adjusted in 2017 to include evidence-based practices and expand its reach beyond grandparents to other relatives and kinship caretakers.
“We wanted to match our expertise and resources to the need we were seeing in the community,” said Moe Dozier, vice president for programs at MCH. “Through this program, we are able to give these caretakers hope that they can handle their situation by providing them additional skills, a support system, or even just an encouraging word. Essentially, as the name indicates, we want to stand in the gap with them during this challenging time.”
Grandparents and other relatives can face unique challenges in raising children such as limited financial resources, health issues or complex family relationships. Through the Gap program, case managers work alongside them as they adjust to their new roles by identifying their strengths, assessing their needs, and developing goals to stabilize the situation.
“We can assist in navigating complicated systems such as education and community services that are available,” said Traci Wagner, program administrator for the Eastern region of MCH Family Outreach. “We can also be instrumental in connecting families with others who are walking similar paths. We all want to feel loved, included and know that we have a safety net of people who know what we are going through. MCH can be that and so much more to children and families who are in need of a glimmer of hope in a hurting world.”
Allen and Misty were connected to LaKiesha Chatman, case manager at MCH Family Outreach in Tyler, in June 2018. They had been through some tough months adjusting to having the boys, now ages 2 and 1, along with their own sons Raymond, 18, and Joseph, 17. They moved to a larger house in a new neighborhood in order to accommodate their growing family. Then their financial situation became dire when Allen was hospitalized with heart issues. He was laid off from his job, leaving the family suddenly with limited income.
The family was referred to MCH Family Outreach through their grandchildren’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) representative. Chatman was able to guide the family as Allen, now deemed unable to work due to his health issues, applied for disability. During the waiting period, Chatman connected them to food and rental assistance resources in the community. She also referred them to a home speech service to help Josiah, who seemed to be experiencing speech delays.
Chatman has also been a knowledgeable advocate for the family as they navigate the social services system on behalf of their grandchildren.
“LaKiesha has been great,” Allen said. “We really appreciate everything she has done. All my life I never had to depend on anyone. It got me down having to depend on someone, but we really appreciate it and we probably couldn’t have made it without her.”
“Life has a way of putting you into check sometimes,” said Misty. “This is new to us. We raised our three kids and never had to deal with any state agencies. She has been very insightful and helpful.”
Chatman said the couple has great parenting skills and a lot of love for their grandchildren.
“They are very resilient and are great problem solvers,” she said. “As a case manager, I love working with this family because they are so humble and always aim to do the right thing. I enjoy being an advocate and helping link them to the appropriate and needed resources in the area.”
Allen and Misty said despite their challenges, it has been wonderful having the young boys in the home, and their older boys have been very helpful and understanding of the situation. Josiah and Clay have adjusted well and are happy with their grandparents.
“Who doesn’t love having babies in the house?” Misty said. “They have given me a sense of purpose again.”
“They bring a lot of happiness and joy to the house,” Allen said. “I would do anything for them. These are my grandbabies – they are a part of me. I’ll go to my grave trying to take care of them.”
The couple plans to adopt Josiah and Clay if the parents’ rights are terminated. Chatman said she will continue to support the family through the process.
“I enjoy being an ear to listen to the adjustments, rewards and challenges this family and so many other grandparents face by taking on the role of parenting their grandchildren to avoid further out-of-home placement of the children,” Chatham said. “I feel that grandparents just need empowerment and, most of all, the time and space to talk about how they are feeling when parenting their grandchildren.”
Wagner said the Gap program has been successful due to the relationship that is built with families as well as the focus on identifying and building on the family’s strengths.
“Families in crisis or families who find themselves in new and frightening circumstances don’t need to be told what they are doing wrong – we are all usually well aware of our areas of growth and shortcomings,” she said. “What families need is someone to jump in alongside them in their journey and listen to their concerns, help them identify achievable goals and develop a roadmap to get there. The Gap program is about relationships, advocacy and hope.” •