Do your part for kids in need this summer

Published 7:59 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Contributing columnist

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Those words from George Gershwin’s 1934 song evoke images of long days of lemonade stands, family time and no pressures. A little later in the song, Gershwin lifted up the safety and security of the nuclear family – “There ain’t nothin’ that can harm you with daddy and mommy standing by”.

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As summer vacation approaches for Kentucky kids, we might like to think that’s the way it is, but the real story is very different for many of them. We have around 10,000 Kentucky kids in foster care or residential care — paid for by the state. We have the highest rate in the country of kids living with relatives who are not their parents. A large percentage of those caregivers are grandparents. We have the second-highest rate of child abuse and neglect of the 50 states, and it’s not strangers on the street who are committing most of the abuse and neglect.

We know that many of these kids are not with their parents because of their parents’ active addictions to substances, and their incarceration in jails and prisons. We also know that generational poverty, poor employment skills and a lack of education are contributors to fragmented families. And many would argue that spiritual problems have something to do with all of these problems.

The good news is that so many grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings, step up to care for kids whose parents temporarily –or permanently – can’t do it themselves. Family members often do it with no financial help and not enough time in any one day to do all they have to do. They do it because they love their families, they are loyal, and they know that being part of a family is a basic human right. They do it because they know the children didn’t cause the parents’ problems.

Danville Families First Family Resource Center has a “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” support group. Anna Houston, the center’s director, believes that support is absolutely critical for those who are parenting yet another generation of children and youth. In a recent lunch for some of those grandparents, hosted by Danville Kiwanis, the grandparents shared ideas about the kinds of support they could use in parenting their grandchildren. They were particularly addressing needs as summer approaches, when school is out.

Here are some of their ideas to stimulate individuals and community groups who can perhaps do a little more to be a substitute extended family to kids in our community:

• Have more programs in the parks — art, music, and drama. Include children who have special needs, such as autism.

• Help with meals for grandparenting families is often needed — summer requires many more meals than during the school year.

• Child care during the day and evening — many grandparents also have jobs outside the home.

• Activities for teens which are free or offered at a very minimal cost — movies, concerts, car shows.

• Sports of all kinds, but transportation assistance would be really helpful.

• Summer reading, math and science programs, so the kids aren’t behind when school begins again.

• Adult mentors for kids — many boys in particular are growing up with no male adult role model.

We have programs in our community that address many of these needs. For a variety of reasons, they don’t reach enough kids in all parts of our county, and they often are limited by a shortage of volunteers, transportation options, and financial resources.

Food pantries fill in the gap for families who are stretched to provide enough food. The pantries are busy in the summer. They need community donations to do their work.

One group taking on a widespread need discussed by the grandparents’ group is the local Early Childhood Alliance. These concerned citizens have stepped up to address a critical shortage of all types of child care in Boyle County. The community is invited to learn more about child care and early childhood education at a lunch event on May 22, at 11:30 a.m. at the Boyle County Public Library.

Hope Network is a group actively working on finding mentors for children in our local schools. A training for adults who want to be Kids Hope mentors in the 2019-20 school year will be held in August, to begin the school year with mentors for over 500 students. Over the summer, we are all encouraged to consider giving an hour per week to children who desperately need and want relationships with caring adults.

Summer is almost here. Let’s see what we can do to make the “livin’” a little easier for our neighbors around us. Set up a lemonade stand. And, thank a grandparent.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.