Many of them are not like your grandparents, they are quick to ask for a “selfie”, they are internet savvy and they are raising their grandchildren.
300 seniors gathered April 22nd for the 19th Annual Conference of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, a non-profit organization formed as a support group for the older generation now being saddled with upbringing of another load of children.
The theme for this year’s gathering is “Second Time Around” and participants know well what it means. Dot Thibodaux and Danna Spayde, two Baton Rouge women, are the founders and torchbearers of the group.
Without a source of funding, GRG has depended on donations and volunteers to survive since beginning as a support group at the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging in 1993.
This week’s conference features two sessions of no less than 8 different seminars, all addressing the many needs in the home, including what grandparents need to know about their taxes, health, the laws and cyber-bullying.
Grandparents attend this meeting year after year because of the sheer practicality of the information they can get and bring home.
At this meeting came the news both women have been wanting for years. Senator Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge took the podium to announce that thanks to her bill in the current legislative session, GRG would now have more stability, and definitely more funding.
“I am the author for Senate Bill 313,” Barrow said, “which is a bill for the council of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.”
“It changes the makeup of the board, it moves it under the Department of the Governor as part of the Children’s Cabinet,” she continued. “In addition, it restructures the funding so we can get money for this organization. And I’m excited about that because for too long you guys have operated on pennies.”
Grandparents traveled to Baton Rouge from all over the state. GRG has chapters in all corners.
Louisiana Secretary of Children and Family Services Marketa Garner Walters even managed time away from the legislative session to talk to this crowd and apologize.
“I’m willing to bet the farm that we have not supported you,” said Walters. “We at DCFS have not supported you the way that we need to support you.”
The crowd applauds loudly after that statement.
Walters says DCFS workers may have offended or even mistreated them, but asked for their understanding.
“The past administration did not treat them well. And they are a hurting work force. And sometimes when people are hurting, they hurt. And I know that there are spots and people that are employed by this agency that don’t always have the best service attitude and don’t always do the best right service. I hope and I’d like to believe that they are hurting too.”
Walters promised to locate problem employees and services and correct them as she finds them. She also invited GRG’s participation in the oversight and planning for her agency operations.
“I would like to have a couple of representatives from your group to sit on that internal board for me. Because you are internal partners; you are who we do the work with. We are not on the front lines raising the kids, you are, and so if we’re not doing the best for you, then we are really off-base.”
Walters said her workers will now sit down with grandparents who come in to find out about benefits and how to file for support rather than shoving a computer in their hands to fill out a form. She also offered that if grandparents find it difficult to go to their local DCFS office, that there can be a home visit.
“One of the staff who could do home-visits, similar to the ones in child welfare, not to check on the kids but to check and see what needs you may have that you don’t know about benefits.”
And she offered that her office will try to organize other community groups who can offer services grandparents might need that the state does not offer.
Walters wants to be the source of connecting community services.
And Walters rounded out her To-Do list with adding a grandparents icon (there is none right now) to the DCFS internet homepage.
If the GRG Senate Bill 313 becomes law, Senator Barrrow says “It’s a brighter day!”
Dot Thibodeaux agrees.
“We’ve been working for that for a long time, to be recognized as a body that needs help. These are grandparents, a lot of them are on social security, when you get an extra child or two or three, that check doesn’t go up. There needs to be something to help them and it doesn’t have to be for the rest of their lives. It can be temporary.”