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United Way-Funded Program Supports All Families Through The Pandemic 

2020-WEB Size Grandpa and grandaughter.jpgSupporting grandparents raising grandkids 

Raising children is a challenge no matter your situation, but for those who bravely take it on a second time as parents to their grandchildren, there can often be a whole new set of concerns. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased those challenges, and while these second-time parents forge ahead with determination and love, there are services ready to help. 

The United Way-funded agency, Parent Support Services Society of B.C., runs an outreach program for grandparents and other relatives who take care of a family member’s child (called kinship care families).  

The program organizes meet-ups between these caregivers, promoting a supportive community, and also works to connect these families up with supports, benefits and advice when dealing with some of their unique challenges. 

“There can be huge financial and emotional consequences [that come with taking on this challenge],” said Sandi Halvorson, program coordinator for central and northern Vancouver Island. 

Using up savings, having to go back to work or quit a job depending on the needs and age of the grandchild, dealing with a fixed (and often reduced) income in retirement, the fact that the costs of raising a child have gone up, and having to move out of 55+ housing are just some of the challenges grandparents and other kinship families have reported to the Parent Support Services Society, says Halvorson. 

Isolation is also an issue, she says, as these grandparents are often the only ones in their friend group raising a child. 

“We offer support groups that give them a place to meet other grandparents who are raising grandchildren, and really share the things that they have in common, talk about some of the ups and downs of parenting the second time around,” Halvorson says. 

When the pandemic hit, those in-person groups had to be halted. But, through hard work from program staff and volunteers, kinship families have been connected up again through Zoom chats, phone calls and other means. 

But, in response to schools closing early for the year, which confronted grandparents with the need to do homeschooling, the program reached out to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island (UWCNVI) to do more. 

With a grant from UWCNVI and the Government of Canada's Seniors Response Fund, the program was able to purchase and distribute grocery gift cards, lightening the load for grandparents and helping them to afford home-delivery of groceries and more. 

“[United Way] recognized that what we are doing is important and valuable and that these families are worthy of being supported,” says Halvorson. 

The return to school has also been an issue for grandparents, some of whom have health conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous for them. But the support network offered by the kinship family program has helped grandparents to discuss and come up with plans to keep themselves and their grandchildren safe. 

While there are many challenges to taking on a second round of parenting, Halvorson says that it’s done willingly and with love by these grandparents and that if they had to do it again, they would. 

That’s why it’s our duty to support them. If you can, please consider donating to your local United Way to support families of all shapes and sizes in your community. 

If you are a grandparent or other relative raising a family member’s child, reach out to the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support line via grgline@parentsupportbc.ca , or by phone at 1-855-474-9777.