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Healthy Grandfamilies program needs more support

February 2, 2019

CHARLESTON — Back when only 2 percent of children were being cared for by their grandparents, Bonnie Dunn was saved as a Kanawha County judge placed her in the care of her grandparents after a traumatic incident at her home.

Today, West Virginia is tied with Arkansas for the second most number of grandparents caring for their grandchildren behind Mississippi as the nation faces a child welfare boom, and Bonnie Dunn, now in her 70s, says she feels her life has come full circle.

Dunn, a West Virginia State University extension specialist, was part of the team that created Healthy Grandfamilies, a federally funded grant program bringing resources and support to grandparents in the custody of their grandchildren. She spoke Thursday to the West Virginia House of Delegates’ Senior, Children and Family Issues Committee meeting.

“There is not a 1-800 number - ‘I just got my grandkids. Help,’” Dunn said.

The Healthy Grandfamilies program tries to be that hotline.

The program was started in 2015 and was available in Kanawha County before it expanded to other counties in the state. In 2017, the program partnered with Harrison County Schools to provide the program on a “shoe-string” budget. Dunn said Harrison County graduated more people in a year than it did during the grant program.

Now, the West Virginia Department of Education has given the program $75,000 to enable Dunn to travel to each county and help the schools develop Healthy Grandfamilies coalitions. But the Healthy Grandfamilies program is at an impasse, Dunn said.

Though she never outright asked the committee for funding, several delegates said they were moved by her speech and said they wanted to help. Dunn said a plan is already in place should the program receive more funding to move it into all 55 counties.

“These people need help, and we have a tremendous program to get these people the resources they need,” Dunn said.

The program consists of 11 discussion topics, including communication, social media, legal issues, the school system, nutrition, trauma informed care and family response to addiction.

Dunn said over the three years, nearly all the grandparents in the program did not know they could receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF, and some families receive their grandchildren without even having beds for them to sleep in. The program helped with that. The grant also allowed them to feed the families, provide child care and even transportation.

It’s an eight-week course, and at the end grandparents receive a certificate showing they completed 16 hours of training. Then, a certified social worker develops an action plan with the family, working to see what can be done in three months to make life better.

Dunn said even after three years, families still call them.

“The problems might not be real bad, but they will not leave us,” Dunn said. “They found support. They found hope. Somebody listens. Somebody cares.”

To learn more about the program, visit www.healthygrandfamilies.com.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck @TaylorStuckHD on Twitter and Facebook.

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