The West Virginia University Extension Service (WVU-ES) recently received a four-year $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to develop programs that provide services to these families.

“Caring for children in todays society has multiple challenges without the unpleasant dynamics associated with HIV and substance abuse among parents,”said Dr. Larry LeFlore, director of the WVU Extension Service Center for 4-H and Youth, Family and Adult Development.

“This project, guided by Allison Nichols, Extension specialist, and her colleagues, will be an invaluable educational service for those struggling as caregivers in this most unpleasant situation,”he said.”It is another example of Extension partnering with others to address the needs of our residents in an effort to improve the quality of their lives.”

The project is a collaboration between the WVU -ES, DHHR Office of Social Services, DHHR Office of Behavioral Health, and Mission West Virginia. The grant is only one of a select group funded nationally in its category.

The proposal builds on the success of the Relatives as Parents Program in West Virginia. The new program will create support groups in all 55 counties by the projects third year.

Project objectives include increasing the number of trained support group facilitators, improving facilitatorsand community representativesskills related to parenting issues, improving childrens recreational opportunities and increasing the number of caregivers that are connected to these services.

It also seeks to enhance the capacity of communities to provide support services to relative caregivers and meet childrens needs, increase numbers of children staying with the same relative caregivers, decrease stress and burden levels among those caregivers and develop ways to sustain the program in the community on a long-term basis.

Dr. Nichols is co-directing the project with Carol Winland, Extension agent, and a representative from Mission West Virginia. WVU -ES will provide training to educators, medical and law enforcement representatives and other support group facilitators who interact daily with the caregivers

“According to the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 22,000 children in West Virginia are being raised by a grandparent and thousands of others are being raised by relatives who are not their biological parents,”said Nichols.”The partners in the West Virginia Relative Caregiver Project will join together to support these relative caregivers by providing emotional support, education and training, access to social and health services and recreational activities.

After the training is completed, these representatives will serve on an advisory board and share their expertise with their communitys support group.