A kinship caregiver is a relative, other than a parent, who is raising a child, according to local resource guides given to all those in attendance at The Center in the Park on Germantown Avenue recently.
One of the most important aspects of being a child’s primary guardian is to be informed, and having a grasp of all the resources available, professionals said .
At the “Kinship Care” discussion held at the Center, organized jointly by state Sens. Shirley Kitchen and Anthony Williams, an expert panel and one determined parent outreach organization provided all the information and support resources one could ask for.
“We want to make sure parents are getting more involved in their children’s education,” said Sylvia Simms, president and founder of Parent Power. “When parents are engaged, the child does better.”
Parent Power is a group of parents and community members dedicated to eliminating the academic achievement gap among families from low-income backgrounds.
“I’m a grandmother,” Simms said, “and we have a lot of parents that are on drugs or incarcerated, or they just have challenges. So you have a lot of grandparents, aunts and uncles stepping up to the plate. So I think we should go away from the ‘parent’ piece, and just say families. Because we have to go back to being that village for our children.”
She went on, “I started Parent Power three years ago because I didn’t see any other organizations advocating for families.”
Simms, along with Claudia Averette, the Philadelphia School District’s deputy chief of parent, family and community services, and Hallam Roth of the Education Law Center presided patiently while those in attendance voiced numerous concerns over their children’s education. No issue was left uncovered.
“I need help on giving my grandson a good education,” said Marie Messantonio, one of the many grandparents in attendance and primary guardian of her nine-year old grandson. “He has attention deficit disorder and I had trouble getting him on track.”
For kids who need learning support, the panel advised parents to be sure the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Public schools are required by law to offer IEPs to any student with learning disabilities.
Messantonio also sang the praises of the Turning Points, a nonprofit organization that helps struggling families in a variety of ways. The result of a recent merger between the Pennsylvania Children’s Aid Society and the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children, Turning Points provided invaluable support when she desperately needed it.
“If it wasn’t for Turning Points I wouldn’t have been able to provide for him,” she said. “They helped with food, school uniforms, got him a bed.”
Two other issues discussed at length were travel and Internet access.
“If a student lives beyond 1.5 miles from their school, they qualify for a free Trans pass,” Averette said. “Also, under the Comcast Internet Essentials program, any student who receives free or reduced lunch at school can receive affordable Internet access for $10 a month. They can also receive a laptop for $150.”
Toward the end of the question and answer session, attendees were flooded with literature describing a myriad of resources covering every issue from transfer rules to directing guardians to their local parent resource center.
“When I was a single parent I didn’t know everything that I know now,” Simms said. “Now I can navigate the system, and I want to make sure others can too.”