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Sisters of Charity: The Power Of Kin

Jan 02, 2018 01:29PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Debbie Nelson

When you think about your kin – what comes to mind? For me, my kin are my support network as I go through the joys, and the trials and tribulations, of life. They are the people I know best and who understand me.

Now imagine being a kid who is taken from your home; ripped away from everything that is important to you. Where would you go? Would your kin take you in?

Kinship care is an informal or formal arrangement in which a blood relative or a non-related adult (fictive kin) assumes temporary or permanent care of a child whose parents are unable to do so. Research shows that kinship care is beneficial for children since it maintains family and community bonds, increases stability, and preserves a sense of identity, culture, and belonging during a time of crisis. This type of care often allows siblings to stay together and helps reduce the trauma associated with separation.

While kinship care has benefits, the unanticipated responsibility that grandparents and others must assume to raise a child comes with significant challenges. The two biggest are health care and financial hardship. Children living in kinship care are less likely to be covered by health insurance and more likely to have physical and mental disabilities. In addition, kinship caregivers are often low-income individuals. Many are older and live on fixed monthly incomes that do not adequately support the additional needs of raising a child.

In order to advocate and bring a voice to kin caregivers across our state, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina launched its Kinship Care Initiative in 2014. This initiative is committed to improving the well-being, resources, and services available for kinship families. To advance this commitment, the Foundation has established a Kinship Care Advisory Council, grant-making initiatives, and strategic partnerships with organizations that are improving outcomes for kinship families under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, vice president of initiatives and public policy.

In South Carolina, more than 50,000 grandparents have primary responsibility for their grandchildren. There is also a growing number of extended family members or close family friends who care for a relative’s children. One such kinship family was brought together 15 years ago. When Alexius (7 years), Laquan (6 years), Kaywhon (5 years), Akealion (4 years), and Nikayla (4 months) lost their mom in a tragic traffic accident, their grandmother, Gillia Robinson, along with Nikayla’s aunt, Kim Little, stepped in to raise them.

“Gillia was not going to let these kids be separated,” Kim said. “She was absolutely amazing to step in and raise five children without missing a beat. It was so sudden and she never really had time to grieve the loss of her daughter. Instead, the kids have been her therapy. Gillia has been a trooper and fighter since the start; she truly defines the word ‘giver.’”

Kim, only 27 at the time of the accident, knew in her heart and soul that she also needed to be there for the kids. From the start, she went everywhere with them. “One of the first things that I did was buy a bigger car so we could make family trips together,” chuckled Kim. “And in no time at all the kids were calling me Aunt Kim.”

Becoming a kinship family came with many challenges. Gillia needed to quit her job to care for the kids. If she had continued working, she would have made too much money to receive food stamps. She needed this support to adequately feed them. In addition, Gillia did not have guardianship over the kids. Therefore, she could not make major medical decisions for them. This became a major issue when two of the kids needed their tonsils removed.

“The kids would not be where they are today without a community of support. Churches and schools played a large role,” said Kim. “From the start, Joseph Keels Elementary School in Richland District 2 was amazing. The kids got the help they needed. In addition, the school got them involved in extracurricular activities that helped them grow socially. They even had a special program for grandparents, like Gillia, who are raising kids.”

So where are the kids today? Three of them graduated from high school and are working. The fourth is working and currently completing his GED. And the baby girl, Nikayla, is in the 9th grade, a junior ROTC and a talented make-up artist.

Over the years, Kim Little, now Dr. Kim Janha, has become a strong advocate for kinship care. She is currently a member of the Sisters of Charity of South Carolina Kinship Care Advisory Council and serves on a South Carolina Citizen Review Panel for Child Protective Services. Somewhere along the way, she also made time to earn her PhD in Human Services Management and works as the Legislative Services Coordinator for the Richland Legislative Delegation.

“Kim Janha and Gillia Robinson are shining examples of the power of kinship families who step forward and ensure that children have a place to call home and belong,” said Cooper-Lewter.

For more information about the Kinship Care Initiative visit
www.sistersofcharitysc.com.

Debbie Nelson is the President of DNA Creative Communications, an inspirational marketing and public relations firm for nonprofits. She is the founder of Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums in the Upstate and at the state level she coordinates Together SC’s Knowledge Network. Debbie is also an adjunct professor at Presbyterian College and Clemson University.

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