Imagine you are at work and the telephone rings. It is the Department of Social Services. You hear the worker on the other end of the telephone say, “Please come to the courthouse immediately. Your grandchild is being removed from the care of her parent and may be in jeopardy of being placed in foster care.”
This is the scenario that many of the participants in our Relatives as Parent Program support group describe as being their first experience with the Department of Social Services system of care for children. Relatives as Parent Program or “RAPP,” is a support group run by Putnam Family and Community Services, Inc. The group meets the third Monday of every month from 6:30 -8:00PM. Child caregivers can be grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult siblings of children, who come together and discuss their special issues as Rapp families. They receive information, and support in order to refuel for the task of caring for children who have unexpectedly joined them in their homes. RAPP staff offer assistance with parenting and coping skills, advocacy and support. The Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP) was initiated in 1996 by The Brookdale Foundation in New York City. It is designed to encourage and promote the creation or expansion of services for grandparents and other relatives who have taken on the responsibility of surrogate parenting due to the absence of the parents.
There are many ways that RAPP families come together. One working single grandfather we’ll call John who is in our support group, went to court one day and came home with four small grandchildren under the age of eight. He immediately needed to equip his home with beds and all the necessary items to care for these children. John also needed to figure out how he was going to get these children the special services they needed while working a full-time job. Suddenly, he was cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and helping the children with their homework. John is not alone in his quest to handle these weighty responsibilities. Relatives that take on the role as parents, face tremendous challenges as they now have the full responsibility of these children. They need help enrolling the children in school, accessing health insurance as well as medical and behavioral healthcare, and securing legal assistance. They need to make appropriate decisions regarding guardianship and kinship-foster care that is available to families through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). RAPP caregivers can become confused by the sometimes complicated legal system for children and may make uninformed decisions not knowing the ramifications that those decisions will have on the children. RAPP staff and the support group offer firsthand experience about negotiating the systems that caregivers must deal with. In group, RAPP families can hear how other caregivers are addressing tough issues and how they are safeguarding the children and themselves.
Like John, RAPP families are usually at a stage in life where they were slowing down maybe working part-time and looking forward to retirement. They never envisioned themselves being suddenly thrust onto the express track of parenthood again. Additionally, children in RAPP need to heal and recover in therapy from the sometimes traumatic experiences of their young lives. They often need to sort out the situations that they have been exposed to in their original parental home. These situations can include domestic violence, parental alcohol and drug addiction, and unstable parenting. Some have been neglected or physically abused without the ability to understand that it is not their fault. They have internalized feelings of low self-esteem, low frustration tolerance, poor communication skills and few coping skills. RAPP staff can assist the group members with updating their parenting skills to deal with these children and their special needs. Often, the parenting style they used the first time around for their own children do not meet the needs of their grandchildren. Families receive help in order to learn about and utilize other resources available not only at Putnam Family and Community Services, but in the community.
The RAPP group allows caregivers the opportunity to comfortably meet, while their “children” are involved in on-site structured therapeutic activities. The children are able to socially interact with kids who are in similar family situations. They can ask questions of each other without feeling stigmatized or judged. The children learn and practice social skills, along with asking for help. They work as a group and make decisions together. The skills that they learn in group compliment what the caregivers are learning so that the family can live in harmony. When you speak to caregiver families, they express a strong desire to keep the children healthy mentally and physically. The RAPP group allows them to know that they are not alone. With the help of the group leader and each other, they gain information and educate themselves about resources available. RAPP gives them a small respite from regular childcare responsibilities as well as helping them cope with daily issues that they are facing in their new role. Families are all unique, but all families need to experience laughter, joy, positive regard and places to feel safe. RAPP provides one of those places.
For more information on RAPP, contact Diane Henry, LCSW-R at (845) 225-2700 ext. 138