Knowing she isn't alone keeps Debra Hayes encouraged as she raises her grandchild, a role more and more grandparents are taking on despite putting off retirement and having to take care of their own health issues. "It was tough when she was first placed with us," she said. "Now we don't know what we would do without her." Hayes and her granddaughter, Lexi, 4, joined other families for Grandparents Day at the Topeka Zoo in celebration of National Grandparents Day on Sunday. Hayes, who continues to work full-time for the state of Kansas, is a member of the local Grandparent and Caregiver Support Group. She said the group's members have been instrumental in supporting her and her husband as they go through the process of legally adopting and gaining sole custody of Lexi, who has lived with them since February of last year. Sharla Pfeffer started the support group five years ago to let other grandparents like her know they weren't alone in raising their grandchildren and provide information about resources available to them. "So many people are stepping up to the plate in their elder years," she said. "But they ask me, 'Where do I get help?' I want them to know there is hope and help out there for them."
One source of help, depending eligibility, is the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services' Grandparents as Caregivers Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to grandparents or other adult relatives who are the primary caregivers of children in their custody. Michelle Ponce, SRS spokeswoman, said there are 171 families with a total of 317 children statewide currently enrolled in the program that started in January 2007. She said there are 15 families with a total of 25 children in Shawnee County who receive benefits through the program. Since there are specific age, income and custody guidelines enrollees must meet to quality for the Grandparents as Caregivers program, Ponce said grandparents and other relatives may qualify for another SRS program, Temporary Assistance to Families, also known as the Successful Families Program. "The key differences (between the two programs) are the income and age requirements," she said. "The Temporary Assistance to Families program is another benefit they may be eligible for." Ponce added that the Temporary Assistance for Families program doesn't require the older relative to have sole custody of the children like the Grandparents as Caregivers Program does.
Doug and Marilee Winebrenner, of Meriden, both in their 60s, are the legal guardians of their grandson, Joe, 8, and granddaughter, Jamie, 6. Both agree that taking care of their grandchildren has kept them younger by being involved in Boy Scouts and school activities.
The Winebrenners say they are glad they can be the ones who are raising their grandchildren -- but Doug said that comes with a price.
"We just don't get to be grandparents," he said. "We're always the parent."
Angela Deines is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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