AP NEWS

Families raising grandkids get boost

March 30, 2019

CHARLESTON — A provision in the recently passed state budget bill will help expand to all 55 counties a West Virginia State University program that aids grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

House Bill 2020, the Fiscal Year 2020 budget bill, includes $300,000 in funding for WVSU’s Healthy Grandfamilies program, a free initiative that provides information and resources to grandparents who are raising one or more grandchildren.

“This program fills such a vital need in our state,” Del. Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, said in a release. “As a result of the opioid crisis, West Virginia now ranks second in the country for the percentage of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. West Virginia State University has put together this remarkable program to aid these families, and I am so happy we are now able to help them expand it statewide.”

Since 2016, the WVSU Extension Service has partnered with the university’s Department of Social Work to offer the Healthy Grandfamilies project. During that time, they’ve helped 125 grandparents in the greater Kanawha Valley.

The program is set up as a series of 10 discussion groups focused on specific topics these grandparents might face.

During the regular session, Graves invited Bonnie Dunn, a family and consumer sciences extension specialist with the WVSU Extension Service who runs the program, to discuss the Healthy Grandfamilies initiative with the House of Delegates’ Committee on Senior, Children and Family Issues.

As a member of the Finance Committee, Graves successfully offered an amendment giving a one-time grant of $300,000 to help the university expand the program statewide.

“I have been so impressed with the work Bonnie’s done shepherding this program on a shoestring budget, and was proud to help give her the support to expand it across the state,” Graves said. “This onetime startup grant will help get this statewide program up and running, at which point it can get donations and private support to keep it going.”

During the program, grandparents participate in a series of free educational discussion groups on the topics of parenting, communication, health literacy/self-care, stress management, legal issues, social media, public school programs and policies, family response to addiction, and nutrition.

Groups are small — up to 18 people — and are held in venues such as churches, schools and libraries in communities where participants live. Grandparents also receive social work support services, such as help locating community resources, confidential assistance in addressing unmet needs, and advocacy services.

To make the free program possible, WVSU partners with several organizations, including the state Department of Education, West Virginia Legal Aid, Handle With Care, West Virginia Library Commission, the state Bureau of Senior Services, West Virginia University Extension Service and several other community faith-based and nonprofit organizations.

“This program fills such a tremendous need in this state,” Graves said. “So many grandparents in West Virginia are essentially raising the next generation. And because most of this older generation has been self-sufficient and never needed state aid before, they don’t know how to get the help they need as they tackle this huge burden. This free program can help them learn and find the support they need as they step up to become the primary caregivers for thousands of children all across this state.”

To learn more about the Healthy Grand families program, visit HealthyGrandfamilies.com.