Although there is no clearly defined alternative kinship program in Oklahoma, the Aging Services Division within the Oklahoma Department of Human Services has spearheaded several ongoing initiatives that involve services to relative caregivers.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Conferences
The Aging Services Division has sponsored an annual Grandparents Raising Grandchildren conference since 1997. The conference is consistently well-received and provides grandparents and other kin caregivers with information on a wide range of legal, educational, and family relationship issues. Representatives from various state agencies and programs provide information about the child welfare system, guardianship and other permanency options, and other sources of support such as the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid, and child support. Information about the conference event is distributed by the Aging Services Division through a variety of organizations such as the Department's child welfare agency, the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, schools, daycare centers, and the Area Agencies on Aging.
Following the first conference in 1997, the state legislature mandated that the Department of Human Services create a handbook for grandparents raising grandchildren. Aging Services and the Division of Children and Family Services collaborated to publish Starting Points for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Summer 1998), which provides information and key phone numbers regarding issues such as Child Development, Health and Safety Needs; Child Care, Schools and Education Needs; Obtaining Documents and General Assistance; Custody and Legal Issues; Coping Strategies; and Resources for Grandparent Caregivers.
In 1999, the Division of Aging Services received a grant from The Brookdale Foundation to establish support groups for kinship caregivers. The grant is part of the Brookdale Foundation's Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP) which provides seed grants of $10,000 over a two-year period to local and state agencies to expand services for kinship caregivers and their families. The Division of Aging Services subsequently awarded grants (ranging from $826 to $1000) to four subgrantees in different parts of the state to establish the kinship support groups on an ongoing basis and was planning to fund four additional organizations for the same purpose. Aging Services has also encouraged local groups to apply for additional funding directly from the Brookdale Foundation.
A RAPP Grant inter-system task force was developed early in the program's first year of funding and includes representatives from the State Department of Health, State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, DHS, Oklahoma State University, Area Agency on Aging, Chikasaw Nation, Institute of Child Advocacy, and the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The RAPP task force meets primarily to discuss the progress of the support group grantees. The task force also serves the purpose of opening dialogue between many agencies which in some capacity serve grandparent caregivers.
Respite Care for Grandparents
The Oklahoma Respite Resource Network is housed within the Oklahoma Areawide Services Information System (OASIS), a statewide information and referral network. Various agencies, including Family Support, Aging Services and Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health, have contributed funding from their budgets to support respite care costs. Thus far Aging Services has expended about $20,000 on respite care to families in which a grandparent has the primary caregiving role and is at least 60 years old. The family must have a household income of no more than $45,000, or if the child has a developmental disability the income level may be up to $60,000. Families may receive up to $400 per quarter in vouchers to purchase respite services. The caregiver may choose the respite provider, as long as the person is at least 18 years old and does not live in the household. Eligibility is determined and approved upon completion of a simple one-page application.
Program Director, Relatives as Parents
Department of Human Services
Aging Services Division
312 NE 38th Street, Suite 101
Oklahoma City, OK 73105