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Davis Journal

Nearly 20,000 Utah children are being raised by a relative

Jan 06, 2022 11:17AM ● By Becky Ginos

BOUNTIFUL—When Jenn Dishman became a grandmother she never dreamed she would be raising two of those children. With some of her kids still at home, adding an 8-year-old and 10-year-old to the family was an unexpected change. Dishman is not alone. There are about 20,000 kids in Utah living in “kinship” care which is being raised by a family member or friend.

“For two or three years we knew our daughter was having a lot of struggles,” said Dishman. “She was drinking quite a bit and had married an abusive man. We had the kids off and on and they were going back and forth.”

Dishman said they were becoming stressed about getting the kids and the situation with her daughter’s abusive husband. “He convinced her to steal money from her employer at Weber. We called the foster system and asked them what I would need to do. They said we would need to be certified to be foster parents.”

They referred her to GRANDfamilies, a program run by the Children’s Service Society of Utah that helps kinship care families navigate the new situation. 

“It started in 2002,” said Rich Johnston, GRANDfamilies Program Director and Adoption Program Director. “At first it was a service for grandparents caring for a grandchild. Now it’s pretty much grandparents, family or friends. We don’t work with biological parents directly.”

They are the only kinship program in the state, he said. “We work closely with DCFS. One of our goals is to not only prevent kids from going into foster care but to work with people who don’t qualify to be foster parents.”

With foster care the children have been removed from the parents, said Johnston. “The requirements are pretty strict on income, size of rooms, etc. Unfortunately, most (kinship families) don’t qualify for foster care payments. We’re working to get funds to support them more and help them qualify for Medicaid so the children do have medical coverage.”

“It’s a situation you thought you’d never be in,” said Dishman. “There’s a lot of strong emotions dealing with the repercussions of your own child’s alcohol abuse. 

Dishman’s daughter opted not to sign the paperwork for them to take guardianship. “She disappeared,” she said. “He’d (husband) had convinced her to come to a hotel and kept her there. He beat the living daylights out of her. I know he used the kids as leverage to keep her there.”

She decided to sign guardianship just as COVID hit, said Dishman. “I spent most of the winter homeschooling them. Grandfamilies helped me get that set up. They really had my back. I’m so grateful and indebted to them.”

The two boys are now in Dishman’s care. “They’re in a much better, safer place with me,” she said. “My husband and I had to shift gears with what we were doing.”

Dishman is grateful the boys are not in foster care. “I wouldn’t have been prepared to take them if I hadn’t heard about GRANDfamilies.”