By CATHY BROWNFIELD
Family Recovery Center
When grandparents become aware of problems in their childrens' and grandchildrens' homes, new challenges arise for them. They don't really know what the future holds when they make the commitment and take in their grandchildren because the parents can't or won't take care of their children. While they may understand there are problems, they don't really know how deep the problems are or what is involved in caring for the child or children.
Shirley and Kim Shutler recognized their then-4-year-old grandson was being abused. They documented it and went through the court system to get custody of the child.
"I believe we are the best ones to take care of him," Shirley said. She works. Kim suffered an on-the-job injury that debilitated him, so he is the primary caregiver for their grandson whose problems involve special needs. Despite the Shutlers' own health issues, they love the child and are doing everything they can to help him, not without cost. One of their sacrifices is their loss of personal freedom.
Kim says if they didn't have their faith, he doesn't know how they would manage the challenges and stress of caring for their grandson. Like the Andrjewskis, whom we met last week, Kim spoke about feeling alone.
Information about the Kin and Kids program made its way from United Local School District. Alone, he said, there isn't much hope. But Kin and Kids provides emotional support and so much more. Grandparents, he said, need the resources the Kin and Kids program provides so they "can raise kids to have a fighting chance in life."
The Shutlers and the Andrjewskis, whom we got to know in last week's article, expressed concerns that with budget cuts, funding for the program will go away. The Kin and Kids program is a valuable and vital resource for grandparents who are parenting grandchildren, to many of which are special needs children.
The program and the director, Mary Caye Bixler, have made a difference for grandparents and children, the Shutlers agreed. She is an advocate for these special families.
"There are resources we didn't know were available to us," said Shirley. But the network has been a blessing in their lives. Their 11-year-old grandson has many problems that have required drastic changes to their home to keep him safe: a glass door into the kitchen that is kept locked. The child may say, "Please lock up everything that I could use to hurt myself."
The couple is constantly on alert, 24/7. Family members won't take care of the boy more than once because he is so much of a challenge. Recently the Shutlers learned about the Easter Seals respite program. Their grandson can go there three weekends a year to give Kim and Shirley much-needed rest time for themselves.
Kim said the discussions at the monthly group meeting are from real experiences. Someone may hear of something that is worth checking out. Then they report back to everyone else what they learned about that potential resource. They help each other. And Mary Caye reaches out to help meet the families' needs.
"There is hope," Kim said. "Everyone can't afford a lawyer so you have to represent yourself."
Mary Caye, having had the advantage of working in the county, helps kin in the program to prepare them emotionally, psychologically, for court, something case workers in the county program often didn't do.
"You are compelled to prove yourself to the judge. There's a lot of pressure," Mary Caye said. Being prepared makes a huge difference when the kin have the power to walk confidently into the intimidating process.
A support system is vital.
"Get involved," say the Shutlers. "Don't let opportunity pass you by. There's no sense struggling if you don't have to."
As challenging as the Shutlers' situation is, they can think of others among their number who have even greater challenges, like the great grandmother and grandmother who have tackled the care of three special needs children whose family we will meet next week.
Kim believes the grandparents are blessed by association with Kin and Kids. And at a time when budget cuts are affecting programs, he emphasizes a need for the group to help assure this program's future with some fundraising efforts. Mary Caye is pleased that members of the support group are beginning to take a lead in reaching out to, and advocating for, other families.
Mary Caye says that some funding has been cut but, for the time being, the program will be there.
The group is strong enough, she said, that if the program funding was cut, the members will keep the group going. The FRC Kin and Kids is the only such program left in Columbiana County, she said.
Kin and Kids meets in Lisbon monthly. For more information about the program, call Mary Caye at the FRC Education center on Brookfield Avenue, 330-424-0531. Kin and Kids is funded by Brookdale Foundation's RAPP kinship care program and United Way of Northern Columbiana County.
Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for addiction and is located at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1486, or e-mail, email@example.com.