Grandparent’s Offered Support by Children, Inc.: Second Annual GAP Conference

Life Learning Center, Covington, KY – Grandparents raising their grandchildren and professionals gather together the morning of October 21, 2016 at the second annual Grandparents as Parents (GAP) Conference to help one another, learn from one another, and support one another in their journey of raising their children’s children.

According to the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau, in the state of Kentucky an estimated 62,260 children under the age of 18 were being raised by their grandparents. Children, Inc. hosts this event to ensure these caregivers are given the resources they need to continue their support of these children.

The conference taking place through the afternoon offered the grandparents resource booths from different businesses, organizations, and legal advice. Followed by their welcoming, guests went to their first workshop session, heard from family matters expert, and former parent and family life columnist with the Kentucky Post, Gayle Holten,  then were served lunch while listening to a panel discussion, and after attended their second and final workshop session.

Covington Mayor Sherry Carran, who at 28 years-old gained custody of her brother in-laws three children shared her story with guests, the children were 13, nine, and five at the time. Carran says her and her husband have no regrets taking on the children, “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”

Guests broke up into workshops, they could choose from three different ones: St. Elizabeth RN Stacie Nance covered the heroin epidemic, Sarah Zawaly covered toxic stresses, and Carol Lapin covered caring for the caregiver. “Finding the resources is hard,” said conference attendee and Grandmother Amy Campbell, “I’ve been googling this and here it was.”

The rise in relatives raising relatives correlates very closely with the rise in the heroin epidemic. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy’s “2015 Overdose Fatality Report,” Kenton County, KY has the third highest rate of overdose deaths involving heroin in the state, with a staggering 72 heroin related deaths. Many guests were eager to hear from RN Stacie Nance about addiction in the workshop, “When Addiction Visits Your Home.”

Nance described this battle with drugs affecting every part of a family dynamic. She says it affects the stability, causes mental and financial stresses, it brings shame, and so much more. Not only is it affecting family dynamics it’s affecting friendships as well, “if they’re not dealing with it, they just don’t get it,” said Nance. She puts addiction in a different light than most; she describes it as when “addiction” visits your home. “When addiction visits your home you have to find people to be close to,” said Nance.

According to Nance it takes three to five years for a person’s brain to heal from opiate use. Nance believes that this is a life long journey for the person addicted to drugs. “This isn’t an event that’s going to come and go, it’s a life-long event,” said Nance. She does not agree with the term “addict,” she says that those that are addicted to a drug are so much more than just an addict. “You have to remind yourself that this is just a disease that you have,” said an agreeing audience member.

Nance went on to explain the roles both the person addicted and the family members play. She explains that though they are very different roles they are still similar in a way. “Family members get just as sick,” said Nance. This opened up conversations for the audience members that are raising their grandchildren because they have an adult child that is addicted to a drug or drugs and seemed to be therapeutic for them.

This took the conversation to a place about caring for yourself while caring for your family. Keynote Speaker, Gayle Holten, echoed this in her speech about parenting and child development. “It’s the best gift you can give your family, to take care of yourself,” said Holten. Audience members became emotional while talking about this. “Knowing you’re not the only one out there,” said Campbell referring to what the best part of the conference was.

Those that weren’t able to attend may be interested in attending the GAP Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. “Based on the success of the conference we know that it is a valuable resource,” said Rebecca Hollis, GAP Conference Planning Committee, “planning has not yet started for GAP 2017.”

For more information and resources caregivers can call the Kinship Support Hotline at (877) 567-5608. They are also encouraged to attend the monthly “Relatives Raising Relative” support group held by the Kenton County Extension office.