SHERIDAN — In Wyoming, approximately 5,000 children are being raised by their grandparents or an older relative.
That number has remained consistent since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Although numbers have stayed relatively the same, poverty levels and number of children per grandparent and other relatives have increased.
The percentage of grandparents raising grandchildren, or “grand families,” living below the poverty line increased from 8 percent in 2010 to 13 percent in 2018.
Local programs have seen those increases reflected in the care they provide to the community.
Stella Montano works as the family caregiver director at The Hub on Smith and runs the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.
Montano receives grant funding to help support her programming through the Wyoming Aging Division of the Department of Health. Although helpful, Montano feels constricted by the age limit set by the division and finds herself scraping by, wishing she could do more for the elderly relatives caring for young children.
Funding for the program is designated for adults 55 or older.
Sixty-two percent of grandparents raising grandchildren fall in the 30- to 59-year-old age range, and 63 percent of the total grandparent population participates in the workforce. Montano sees the strain on elderly relatives caring for grandchildren, but because of funding she cannot help them in the way she would like.
“My goal would be to be able to provide some respite for the grandparents outside of Wednesday nights,” Montano said. “I feel that that respite is so important for them.”
Montano provides a dinner event every third Wednesday of the month in Sheridan. The families eat a complimentary meal and the older adults have a minute with other adults in their same situation while the children are supervised by volunteers. This month, Wyoming Guardians as Protectors will present information on past and upcoming legislation that may help grand families with custody situations.
Wyoming Guardians as Protectors runs out of Cheyenne but travels throughout the state to help inform grand families of legislative issues tying in with guardianship proceedings through the state justice system.
“We continue to work closely with families, members of our communities, other influential organizations and with our legislative judiciary committee, who has taken up the ‘third-party custody’ issue as a priority for the next session,” said Annie McGlothlin, who works with the organization.
The organization’s count of children in the custody of a third party totaled 11,000 and did not include the children in the Wyoming Department of Family Services state custody or foster care.
Although Montano hopes for increased funding with the next round of grant distributions, the number of grand families is staying consistent and shaping into situations that need additional services and care.
The next event for grandparents raising grandchildren is Aug. 15 starting at 5:30 at The Hub on 211 Smith Street. Children are asked to bring their swim suit and a towel for an activity while the adults listen to the presentation from McGlothlin. The event is co-sponsored by Compass Center for Families, who also interacts with grand families on a daily basis.