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Next of Kin
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Story by Shruti J. Vaidya
Photos by Dipti Vaidya

MSU research has revealed a diverse range of kinship families in Michigan and a community-based resource center is setting new directions for policy and programs.

Kinship Care Resources

kinship lead photoToday, like every day at 3 p.m., Ruth Cheeney waits in her small ranch house in Lansing for her husband Warren to bring their three girls home from elementary school. She has decided to make crisped rice treats for their snack, a favorite after-school activity with the twins, Amber and Amanda (12) and, Michelle (10), before they rush off to swim, do homework or play with friends.

These very ordinary afternoon activities are taking place in an extraordinary household—one in which this 60-year-old grandmother and 62-year-old grandfather have taken on the responsibility of raising their three granddaughters. At an age when they planned to retire from their long-time jobs at a local bakery, perhaps travel to Florida, the Cheeneys are now supporting and raising three girls— each of whom suffered varying degrees of abuse from their father before the grandparents stepped in to protect them.

The Cheeneys are not alone. They are among a growing number of grandparent and relative caregivers across the nation who are raising children separated from their parents due to abuse, neglect or other crises. The Census Bureau reported 2.4 million grandparent maintained households in 1997, reflecting a 19% increase from 1990. In spite of this substantial growth and the implications that kinship care has for the foster care system and child welfare policy, little has been understood about the diverse range of kinship care families, the challenges they face, and their access to public and private resources as they raise children a second time around.
To fill this gap, Michigan State University research is documenting the diversity of kinship care situations in mid-Michigan and discovering that these families face a host of legal, financial, emotional and health challenges. This information about kinship families’ needs has in turn laid the foundation for a statewide community-based resource center staffed by grandparents and MSU social work students which is setting new directions for policy and programs. Driven by community needs from its inception, the initial pilot study has now grown into a long-term kinship care project--building the scholarship and knowledge base about kinship care in Michigan and procuring large grants for research, programs and services.

“Research, practice and policy are inextricably tied,” says Teresa Jones, director of the MSU Kinship Care Project and associate professor in MSU’s School of Social Work, “For kinship care programs and policies to be effective, the research needs to be in place. To know what methods are most effective, what is best practice, we needed to learn about these families and their experiences in kinship care.”

Shruti J. Vaidya is Communications Director for the MSU FACT Coalition and Editor of Connect.

For the full feature story, please see page 16 in MSU Connect magazine.

MSU Connect Contents

Kinship Care Resources

MSU School of Social Work

MSU Kinship Care Resource Center

MSU Kinship Care Project
The MSU Kinship Care Resource Center is a tangible outcome of the Kinship Care Project, which is dedicated to exploring the experiences and needs of kinship care providers, as well as the policy issues involved with kinship care in Michigan.

For more information, call their toll-free hotline: (800) 535-1218

AARP Grandparent Information Center

Bryson, Ken, and Lynn M. Casper. Coresident Grandparents and Grandchildren. U.S. Census Bureau, May 1999.

Child Welfare League of America list of programs

Crumbley, Joseph, and Robert L. Little, eds. Relatives Raising Children: An Overview of Kinship Care. Child Welfare League of America, 1997.

Generations United (GU) National Center on Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children

Gleeson, James P., and Creasie Finney Hairston, eds. Kinship Care: Improving Practice Through Research. Child Welfare League of America, 1999.

Kinship Care Project Overview. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University School of Social Work, 2000.

Kinship Care Roundtable Series Monographs. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University School of Social Work, 2000

Little, Robert. State of Michigan Kinship Care: Exploring Policy Challenges and Options. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University School of Social Work, March 2000.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. 2001.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. 2000.

The Welfare Information Network - Links to Kinship Care Publications