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Sedona program provides support, guidance & tips

Nearly 2,000 grandparents in Coconino County are raising their grandchildren.

The average age for grandparents raising grandchildren is 55 years old, said Beth Knisely-Tucker with the University of Arizona’s Family and Consumer Sciences educator.

Beth Knisely-Tucker, left, and Robert Wheaton lead Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona, a Sedona support group for grandparents raising their grandchildren.“There are various reasons, positive as well as negative, why grandchildren end up living with their grandparents,” Knisely-Tucker said. “Oftentimes, the most prominent reason is substance abuse — and it hits across the economic scale.”

Other reasons include mental health, incarceration, military service, pursuit of higher education and death.

“In many cases it’s a knock on the door in the middle of the night with their son or daughter asking them to take the kids until they get their act together,” Knisely-Tucker said.

Many grandparents end up with their grandchildren more than five years.

When grandparents find themselves responsible for their grandchildren, they discover it’s a different world than when they raised their own children. They frequently don’t know what to do. Fortunately there is help with Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona, a support program of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

A group of parenting grandparents in Sedona and the Verde Valley meets in Sedona twice a month. They discuss issues, share stories, fears, anxieties, learn from each other and often make friends. The meeting is facilitated by Knisely-Tucker and Robert Wheaton.

Confidentiality is a requirement to protect the grandparents, the children and the parents, Wheaton said.

“Many of the issues we deal with here are the parents, not the children. An issue can arise if the parent sees something in the newspaper. Other children read newspapers too and can give the child a hard time,” he said.

One grandmother had her daughter drop off the grandchildren to stay the night. The mother never came back.

“My grandchildren, who were 12 and 16 years old, called and asked if they could come to my house, and stayed,” Kathy said.

Mary said her grandson came to live with her when he was 2 years old.

“We only had him a few months before he went back to his mother, but I have legal visitation rights. He’s well and healthy,” she said. “It was important for me to come to these meetings and learn how to handle certain situations.”

Another grandmother said the support helped ease her mind.

“It’s like being able to let out a big sigh,” she said.

Joyce, a grandmother who helps with the meetings, and Wheaton have attended extensive training. Her grandchild was an infant when she took him in. She and her husband were concerned they weren’t physically capable to take care of him the way he needed.

“We did have issues but we found ways. When he was old enough, I told him I’d get tired and cranky sometimes. He said, ‘That’s all right, Grandma. I’ll give you a time-out,’” she said.

Most come into the group crying and come away laughing, she said.

“We have witnessed miracles. This group has become a part of my life,” Joyce said.

Isolation is a big issue, since most grandparents haven’t parented for 20 to 30 years.

“It’s also going to school functions and other events, and you’re sitting with 20- and 30-year-olds,” Knisely-Tucker said. “Many are looking for help but are hesitant. They’re embarrassed. Here there is nonjudgmental anonymity that can be a safety net.”

Kinship Kare provides other services like educational workshops, a lending library, a grandparent mentor program and family social activities.

“There’s an amazing network throughout the state and many resources,” she said.

Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona meets the first and third Tuesday of the month at 10 a.m. For location and more information, call 204-1924.

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