HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Feb. 13, 2006

Support group for guardians

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Dassel woman and grandmother Karen Schmiesing has been a guardian caregiver to her grandson Taylor, 5, practically since his birth.

Schmiesing’s son had recently gotten a divorce and had complete physical custody of Taylor. Her son was stationed in the Army and Schmiesing and her husband took guardianship.

Last April, her husband George passed away due to heart conditions and she was left to take care of her grandson on her own.

Rebecca Warpula from Early Childhood Family Education informed Schmiesing about a workshop she was giving on the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association.

The program, “Growing up in Grandma’s House: The Extended Family Safety Net,” was sponsored by ECFE for families like Karen’s.

The Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association is a group that works on “improving the lives of grandparents, relatives and the children they are raising,” according to their mission statement.

The 2000 census reported 4.5 million children across the nation are being raised by their grandparents and 1.5 million by other relatives.

In Minnesota, 48,000 children are being raised by their grandparents. This is a more than 100 percent increase over the last 10 years.

Currently, there are 164 households in Meeker County and 593 in Wright County where the child lives with a grandparent or relative, according to the MKCA.

Warpula invited the association to come to Dassel-Cokato for an informational workshop for local caregivers.

“It was nice to know I wasn’t alone,” Schmiesing said.

What both Warpula and Schmiesing hope to do is get enough people interested in forming a support group in the area for kinship caregivers.

“We want to know if there is anyone out there (caregivers) who would like support at this time in their lives,” Warpula said.

She explained the group could gather at ECFE while the children play and the group can talk over a cup of coffee.

The group could discuss topics from how to begin being a caregiver to legal issues.

The support group would also give caregivers a place to share their struggles with others in similar situations.

There is an estimated 30 kinship support groups in Minnesota, according to MKCA.

There are several reasons why grandparents or kinsmen become guardians for family members.

Sometimes, it’s due to death, divorce, service, or drugs.

Schmiesing believes a support group would be helpful, especially for the older guardians who aren’t in the same age group as current parents with young children.

Last summer, Taylor’s teacher, Karen Latt, took him to the park so he could play with her kids, Schmiesing said.

“That was nice of her. He got to play with other kids and I got a break,” she said.

Schmiesing explained difficulties that she faced when it came to insurance, putting him in school, and the different documents that were needed.

“These are all things that could be discussed in a support group,” she said.

“And if it wasn’t for us, where would these kids be now?”

“My husband and I wanted to protect this little boy mentally, emotionally and physically. We also wanted to give him stability,” Schmiesing explained.

“There’s been some challenges, but I wouldn’t change anything,” she said.

After her husband died, her grandson helped fill the void that was in her life, but she then had to raise him on her own.

The community was supportive of her loss. “The community embraced us,” she said.

Taylor still talks about his grandpa Schmiesing said.

If anyone is interested in joining a caregiver’s support group, contact Rebecca Warpula at the Dassel-Cokato Early Childhood and Family Education office, (320) 286-4120. For other resources and information about the program, check out Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association’s web site, www.mkca.org.

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