Best of kin

Deborah Erickson and her husband Ray have been married about seven years. Both in their 60s, they were looking forward to what Deborah referred to as “the good part of our life.”

When Ray’s daughter was unable to continue raising her daughter, Tayler, Deborah and Ray stepped in, went to court and were awarded custody.

Soon thereafter they heard about HopeSparks Family Services and its Relatives Raising Children program that helps family members by connecting them to community resources.

Jesie Holden, kinship navigator for Relatives Raising Children, said the program has been around for about 20 years. In May 2010 they held a conference, and that event led to the formation of the Pierce County Kinship Advocates group.

“This is a group of caregivers meeting on a monthly basis, and the nature of the group has been partially to support, but they are interested in advocating in the community,” said Holden. This group works hard to create more advocacy for kinship care within the community, helping people understand just what kinship care said Holden.

One in 10 children in Pierce County live with a relative who is someone other than their birth parent. That equates to about 4,000 children who live with aunts, uncles, grandparents or siblings.

Another program starting up soon is the Pierce County Kinship Support Group. It will hold monthly meetings and host a guest speaker, but the majority of the time will be for sharing, said Holden.

“Sometimes there is a specific theme, but everyone will have a chance to share. The group will be very participant-driven,” she said.

Holden said while the Relatives Raising Children program has done an excellent job connecting families to resources, it is not the same as building the caregivers up to do the advocacy and attend the caregivers groups.

Members of the advocacy group have formed important connections with each other, offering to help with respite care and attending each other’s birthday parties.

“The kinship kids build relationships, and that is why I’m so passionate about this,” said Holden.

Deborah Erickson said Tayler is now 10 years old.

“She is amazing. She is doing well in school and had counseling through Hope Sparks, which is a Godsend,” Deborah said, acknowledging that it has been an adjustment for she and her husband.

Deborah and Ray Erickson are raising his granddaughter, Tayler. (Courtesy photo)
Deborah and Ray Erickson are raising his granddaughter, Tayler. (Courtesy photo)

“All of a sudden I’m around people in their 30s and my friends are traveling the world and I’m going to Girl Scout meetings and selling cookies,” she said, adding,

“We know that we will be in our 70s and going to her high school graduation.”