BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Grandparents Raising Grandchildren held its annual conference in Baton Rouge Friday, April 21. The meeting began with pomp at the Holiday Inn South's conference halls.
The Baton Rouge Pipes and Drums filled the air with music and as grandparents cooed. Trent McCarthy, 6, dressed in his own tiny kilt, marched along with his dad.
The Baton Rouge Police Department provided an honor guard in dress blues. With snap of their step, they presented the American flag and the room opened their session with the Pledge of Allegiance.
As roll call was held, groups from Monroe, Union Parish, the North Shore, Lake Charles, Donaldsonville, and Baton Rouge all were counted. Several hundred grandparents, whose lives changed when they ended up with custody of their grandchildren to raise, all attended the conference to learn about their rights as custodial parents and the programs that may be available for children with special needs. The conference is a fount of information for all the ways grandparents bump up against a system geared for parents.
"Four point nine million children have been raised solely by their grandparents," said Dr. Dana Hunter of the Governor's Office Children's Cabinet, quoting U.S. census data. "Sixty percent of grandparents have no choice but to remain in the workforce," she continued.
"Twenty-one percent of grandparents who raise grandchildren are below the poverty level. Now that just blew my mind," said Dr. Hunter.
Hunter gave a rousing speech of appreciation and called for good things to happen for them. "Many grandparents who raise their grandchildren reach out, looking for more assistance, only to hear you don't qualify, not eligible," Hunter exclaimed. Hunter says some grandparents are likely to say, "The policies are not set up to help me. The system is not set up to help me. I can't turn these kids away."
The crowd was very supportive, nodding in agreement, even bursting into applause when the statement described their feelings. Michele Rabalais with the Louisiana Children's Trust Fund has been a long-time sponsor of this annual pow-wow for grandparents raising a second generation.
"With one out of every five households in poverty, it is essential for grandparents to be given the information they need to access the resources in the community so they can get the support they need," said Rabalais. "This is why the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Information Center of Louisiana is so important. With the steady change of technology, education concern, changes in parenting skills, as well as the social isolation a lot of relative caregivers experience, it is so important to have an organization like Grandparents Raising Grandchildren to guide parents and relative caregivers and provide much needed training and support to deal with all of today's issues."
"It's blowing my mind to see so many people here as that first support group that Dot and I started so many years ago," said Danna Spayde, co-founder and current vice president of the GRG board.
They announced the seminars for the day and each grandparent could attend two. They might be about helping that child deal with the trauma of neglect suffered at the hands of their own parents. It might be about how to handle issues following disasters like the August flood. There were seminars on how to stay in compliance with the standards of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. This is practical information that many grandparents have said they definitely use throughout the year.
They announced an upcoming legal workshop designed for the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren that would take place at the conference, sponsored by Mr. Todd Gaudin and the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation. They emphasized that GRG holds regular legal workshops for members at the Main Parish Library on Goodwood. The next one is scheduled for Friday, May 19 at 10 a.m. There are others scheduled on August 27 and November 17.
Membership is necessary to keep up with all the latest resources GRG has developed. They want to stay in constant contact.
For more info on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, click here.