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Help for Grandparents in Missouri

Partnerships prove to be more effective.

Summary:

  • More than 5 percent of Missouri children live in grandparent-headed households.
  • AARP Foundation’s Benefits QuickLINK website offers resources to help grandparents.
  • ParentLink offers telephone assistance for grandparent resources.


Kansas City residents Artie Jablonski and her husband, Ed, say their 9-year-old granddaughter, Phylicia, keeps them young. They ferry her to piano and gymnastics lessons, basketball and volleyball games, and Camp Fire USA programs.

“She is like the Energizer Bunny. She keeps us going,” Artie, 63, said.

It hasn’t been easy. They took Phylicia in as a toddler after her mother died and her father battled cancer. Along the way there were numerous legal and financial hoops to jump through to gain custody, arrange for her to receive her mother’s death benefits and add her to their insurance. They didn’t know where to turn for advice.

Teresa Hernandez, 62, didn’t know her daughter was pregnant when she was called to the hospital. There she learned that social services was threatening to put her newborn grandson in a foster home because drugs were coursing through his and her daughter’s blood.

Getting custody involved a maze of red tape. Hernandez lives on Kansas City’s west side with her 85-year-old mother, who watches Carlitos, now a fifth-grader, after school.

“He’s now very healthy, very smart and very polite,” she said. “I just love him. It is hard at times and I just take it day by day.”

Almost 78,000 children in Missouri, more than 5 percent, live in grandparent-headed households. Nationwide, it’s over 4.5 million.

Responding to needs like these, Ilena Aslin, 82, of Cape Girar­deau, has been organizing an annual “grandfamilies” conference for grandparents for seven years that helps launch support groups. She also volunteers with ParentLink’s telephone answer line, which helps grandparents find state and local benefits and resources, such as health insurance and food stamps, for grandchildren.

“They can get the help they need sometimes with just a telephone call,” Aslin said.

Grandparents now confront a different world than when they raised their children, said Aslin, who serves on AARP Missouri’s executive council. Questions about the Internet, video games and drugs are frequent.

Craig Eichelman, senior state director for AARP Missouri, said AARP can be more effective in helping grandparents through partnerships, such as sponsoring a conference. “You never know when suddenly there are kids on the doorstep and you are a parent again,” Eichelman said.

The AARP Foundation also offers a Benefits QuickLINK website where parents and grandparents can learn ways to maintain their health and financial security and get services for dependents.

“It is a one-stop resource for them to find out about 15 programs they might be eligible for,” said Lori Strauss, national manager of benefits outreach for the AARP Foundation. “What is unique is it combines benefits for older Americans and for children. It is the only tool that does that.”

Aslin said she feels good helping grandparents in difficult circumstances. “Of all the things I do with AARP, it’s my favorite,” she said.


DeAnn Smith is a freelance writer from Independence, Mo.

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