Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors Coalition to hold second annual summit

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Currently, there are roughly 70,000 children in Arizona in kinship care who are being raised by their grandparents or other relatives instead of their parents for at least part of their childhood. This number is on the rise and reflects a growing national trend.

In recognition, grandparents and other kinship caregivers from around the state have come together to form the Arizona Grandparent Ambassador Coalition.

The Coalition is largely comprised of grandparents and kinship caregivers who realize that in order to get the tools they need to succeed in raising their children, they must become citizen advocates.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, the Second Annual Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors Community Outreach & Advocacy Summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Holiday Inn, 777 Pinal Avenue in Casa Grande.

The summit has two goals, the first being to bring together, from all around Arizona, grandparents who are raising their grandparents for mutual support and encouragement. The second is to advocate for change in the policies that make it so hard for kinship caregivers to care for their grandchildren.

The Coalition has launched a new website, AZGA.org, to help kinship caregivers to come together, share experiences and offer support.

“We created this new website because we realize that there are so many grandparents out there with very limited access to information,” said Coalition co-chair Laura Jasso.

“We also wanted to have a place where our stories are accessible to everyone. Arizona policy makers have shortchanged kinship families in recent budgets without taking into account the tremendous benefits to the state kinship families represent.”

Statistics prove that children who can no longer live with their parents do better when placed in the care of family members. Unfortunately, the legal rights of kinship caregivers have not grown to reflect the trend toward children being raised by non-parental family members or the needs of the children, which are better met through close family contact as opposed to non-familial foster care.

The website illustrates through personal stories what statistics cannot adequately convey. “Statistics give us the big picture, but never the whole picture,” said Penelope Jacks, southern Arizona director of Children’s Action Alliance.

“Through these stories, our state legislators will see the connection between the lives of grandparents and grandchildren and state policy. Statutes and budgets may seem far from home, but legislation and funding can make the difference in keeping families together.”

Grandparent advocates have identified three areas that, through improvements to laws, will help keep their families together: financial stability, navigating the social service system and respite for both the caregivers and the children to give each a little rest and recreation when needed.

At the summit grandparents will identify and plan strategies for improving these areas, and will talk with decision makers and legislators about these important issues for children and families.

Childcare and lunch will be provided at no cost, and transportation assistance is available on request. To RSVP, visit online at http://bit.ly/AGASummit by Jan. 22.

Questions about the summit can be directed to Laura Jasso at 520-722-5945 or by email at gpambassador@gmail.com. Registration questions can be sent to Sheryl Worthy at 602-266-0707, ext. 219 or by email at sworthy@azchildren.org.

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