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Kinship Connections of Wyoming combines with Montana Kinship Navigator Program to help fund rural kinship families

Chandra Ortiz, project manager at Kinship Connection of Wyoming

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Unfortunate situations can lead to children’s parents being unable to raise them, requiring upbringing by a non-traditional guardian. Often, this role may be taken on by the child’s grandparents, close family friends or other relatives in the family. 

Families like these are called kinship families or grandfamilies. The term also applies to family members taking care of a foster child; other foster children cases are not included.

Finding resources for kinship families can be challenging in rural areas such as Wyoming. That’s why the Montana Kinship Navigator Program and Kinship Connections of Wyoming are partnering to form the first dual-state kinship evaluation collaboration. 

These kinship programs provide caregivers with free information, referrals and advocacy. They also provide services, emotional support, case management and outreach to meet family needs, and are made to prevent children from going into foster care.

The Kinship Connections of Wyoming provide everything a kinship family needs, including navigating the difficult process of receiving guardianship over their young dependents. 

“Being able to provide caregivers with whatever resources they need to reduce the stressors in their lives, and give resources to help those families prevent these kids from going to foster care, is rewarding,” said Chandra Ortiz, project manager at Kinship Connection of Wyoming, in an interview.

Kinship caregivers interviewed said the process for helping families was easy and quick. However, reaching more rural committees can be challenging because of a lack of physical resources to help provide for these people in person. Wyoming Kinship maintains contact through the phone and internet.

“I can’t tell you enough how incredible it feels at this moment to have an advocate in our corner helping us navigate all of this,” one caregiver said.

Wyoming and Montana have similar population demographics and an insufficient amount of kin caregiver data for a formal evaluation on their own, according to the Grandfamilies and Kinship Support Network. Combining both programs will help each state gather sufficient data.  

The partnership has overcome many barriers inherent in conducting a program evaluation in  rural states. Both programs have effectively developed and navigated a collaborative process that enhances their individual efforts to serve kinship families, a news release stated. 

Ortiz said the program will help both Montana and Wyoming with an evaluation that will get them additional funding from Title 4-E prevention services, which will dramatically help the program provide for these at-risk families.

Trina was one of those cases. Her grandson was found wandering around in a park alone, and the police rescued the young boy and brought him to Trina. She was in shock, not knowing what to do. She was a full-time student who was also working. She felt exhausted, with only her faith in God to keep her going. However, she found out about the Kinship Connection program and gave a call to Wyoming 211.

She was almost instantly given aid by Ortiz and her team. They helped her gain guardianship over her grandson and receive federal aid. Ortiz was her voice, helping her through the hard times.

Ortiz even went to Trina’s house to give Trina’s grandson a pile of presents at Christmas.

“I cannot wait to know more about this program. I am anxious to be a part of anything to help the program in Casper grow,” Trina said, adding that Ortiz gave her the confidence that she didn’t have.

Candice, a caregiver from Cheyenne, had nothing but positive remarks about her experience with the staff and care given to her from Kinship Connections of Wyoming. 

Candice had to take care of her two nieces for a while, and could not find any help in town. However, she gave Wyoming 211 a call and got help from Gabby Rodgers, who saw her through with guardianship, therapy and legal help. When Candice’s nieces were able to return home, Rodgers helped her with an emotional therapy group. Now, she is taking care of a young boy with their continual aid.

“I am extremely thankful for this resource being available.” she told Cap City News.

In 2019, Cherie was also helped by the Kinship Connections of Wyoming program. She needed aid taking care of her two grandsons, and with Rodgers’s expertise, she was able to gain guardianship, support and education. 

The kinship team also helped her with holidays, extra toys, clothes, food and everything needed to take care of a young child.

”Gabby had become a friend beyond words,” Cherie said. “If anybody needs help being a grandparent caregiver, reach out to them. They will give you everything you need. They are awesome; don’t be shy, and reach out.”

Rodgers was also a great resource for Rori from Cheyenne. She had been raising her grandkids since 2018 and after she found the kinship program, Rodgers helped her get her grandkids to therapy and connect her to a parenting class.

Rori’s trouble with the court system also was alleviated with aid from Rodgers and Ortiz, who are more familiar with the court’s ins and outs. 

“Really, it has been a huge game changer for me. Without their help, I wouldn’t have guardianship with my grandkids,” Rori told Cap City News.

According to Ortiz, the kinship program has helped around 250 families and over 300 children in Wyoming.

Kinship Connections of Wyoming began in 2019 as a pilot program in Laramie and Natrona counties. The program is now providing services statewide, funded through the Wyoming Department of Family Services. It uses Promoting Safe and Stable Families with Title IV-B funding and is operated by Wyoming 211.

Since Kinship Connections of Wyoming started, it has been building in influence, helping more families across Wyoming. Ortiz said the main issue is funding.

The program’s website offers a resource library containing kinship information and data, a list of community resources and forms commonly used in the program. Its navigator services are designed to help meet the needs of the children being cared for by grandparents and other relative caregivers.

To learn more about the kinship program, click here