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Local nonprofit fills in the gaps of services for grandparents raising grandchildren

Be A Je
Be A Jewel provides free ChildPrint ID kits to grandparents raising their grandchildren on Sept. 30, 2023. Photo by Meghan McKinney/KSMU

The nonprofit organization Be a Jewel serves grandparents who are raising grandkids. They partnered with the Springfield-Greene County Library to hold a resource fair on Sept. 30.

According to data from Fostering Court Improvement, 381 kids in Greene County were moved into foster care between December 2020 and Sept 2021. That’s an average of 31.8 kids removed from their homes per month.

Cheryl Clay is the executive director of Be A Jewel. She said not every child goes into the foster care system. Instead, some children move in with their grandparents. If the grandparents don’t have legal guardianship or foster care benefits, Clay said it’s a struggle for families to get their needs covered.

“When they get these kids — either the police drop them off, social services, or they go pick them up from an unsafe situation — they don’t know where to start to begin to get resources," Clay said.

That’s where Be A Jewel steps in. They connect families, regardless of legal guardianship status, to resources, as well as help with things like school fees, gas cards and mattresses.

Clay said grandparents who are raising grandchildren run into barriers in finding resources — especially people of color and low-income families.

“A lot of people of color do not trust the government, and they do not trust social services. Why should they? It’s never helped them in the past, so that’s their barrier," she said. "Low-income — they don’t have the resources to try to get legal custody to try to qualify for more.”

Gina Marie Waldon began raising her grandson when he was 7-months-old. That was seven years ago. She said making the decision to gain legal guardianship and then eventually to adopt him was difficult because she wanted her adult son to recover from his substance use disorder.

“Every parent who is struggling with mental health, addiction—whatever those circumstances—they deserve time to heal and time to get better and time to get on their feet and do those things. But, at the same time, every child or children deserve a home," she said.

Raising her grandson is joyful, according to Waldon, and her family has everything they need. However, she still struggles with what she calls ‘the misses.’ She remembers when her grandson was big enough to sit forward-facing in his car seat.

Waldon said she "just broke down, because they are missing. You keep waiting and waiting for your loved one to be okay and to be okay and to come back, but that doesn't always happen.”

KSMU asked Waldon what she wants people to understand about situations like hers.

“Families come in all shapes and sizes, and each family deserves respect and kindness," she said.

Clay and Waldon encourage grandparents who find themselves taking over care of their grandchildren to contact Be A Jewel.

Meghan McKinney is an undergraduate journalism student at Missouri State University. She works as a news reporter and announcer for KSMU. Her passions, other than journalism, are psychology, music, sign languages and dancing. She also runs a local music page on Facebook called "SGF Playlist."