Kinship Center receives gift for social work program

There are more than two million grandparents in the United States responsible for meeting the basic needs of their grandchildren. In the state of Florida, almost 150,000 grandparents carry the responsibility, with 3,500 of those in Tampa.

The Florida Kinship Center at USF’s School of Social Work is a place that aids grandparents rearing their grandchildren and other family members in similar situations. The center just received a $100,000 gift last month to help the research center.

USF faculty members Anne Strozier and Aaron Smith founded the Florida Kinship Center in 1998.

“We recognized the needs of grandparents who raise grandchildren in the state of Florida,” Strozier said. “Sometimes they are raising two or three, or even eight or nine children.”

The gift received by the center was designated for their school-based program. The program goes into classrooms of children who have a kinship caregiver. The point is to bring awareness to teachers of the home situation and to assist in any means possible, Strozier said.

She said another great thing about the gift is that the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County matches it. State and local grants are the center’s main means of funding, She said the Department of Children and Families provides limited funding.

She also said private donations help support the center. The center is in the process of establishing a scholarship fund for USF Social Work undergraduates using these funds.

The center began by providing support groups. It now serves as a clearinghouse for information about kinship care given in the state of Florida, and continues to be Florida’s representative for kinship care after being designated by the Brookdale Foundation in 2002. Only one representative is designated per state, Strozier said.

In addition to the support groups and school-based program, the center has also established a program in which counselors go into the homes of kinship families to speak and offer support to caregivers. They also perform research on kinship families.

“We try to help caregivers as well as conduct research about the best practices for kinship care,” Strozier said.

Some of the research the center performs evaluates its own programs to see which works best, Strozier said. Other research is more specialized, such as the effects on children when their parent(s) are incarcerated. This is a main cause leading to kinship care.

“Sometimes these grandparents must assume responsibility overnight, such as in cases where the biological parent is arrested in the middle of the night,” Strozier said.

Other reasons children end up being raised by family members other than their parents include mental illness, drug treatment and death.

For the grandparents and other relatives in Florida, the center established yet another method of helping, Strozier said. The Kinship Care Warm Line provides a listening ear and offers support by sending information to those who may feel desperate and overwhelmed by the job of “parent” in this situation. Strozier said grandparents who are also kinship caregivers staff the Warm Line.

“It really hurts that their mother doesn’t care,” said Barbara Black, a grandparent who works 10 hours a week at the Warm Line. “I had my mom until she was 93, and I can’t imagine not having a mom.”

Black, who will be 70 next month, first came to the center a couple of years ago to take advantage of its support group. She has been raising three of her grandchildren as her own for the past eight years.

“If it wasn’t for me trusting in God, I would have never gotten this far,” Black said.

As her oldest granddaughter enters her teenage years, Black said she must revisit training bras, menstrual cycles and, soon, boys.

“What makes it so hard is that her mom should have been here for that,” Black said.