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Sep 12, 2013 8:00 PM by Danielle Lerner

Kinship caregivers find support, help through new online tool

TUCSON- They are grandparents, aunts and uncles, even siblings, tasked with raising children who are not their own because of certain family circumstances. These so-called "kinship caregivers" face all sorts of challenges and can sometimes feel lost trying to navigate the CPS and DES systems. Now, a new online tool is helping show them the way.

Eleven-year-old twins Eliana and Elysia are all smiles in recent vacation photos, but the past six years have been difficult for their entire family.

"There was neglect and emotional abuse," said Laura Jasso, the girls' grandmother.

CPS placed the girls with Jasso when they were just five years old. Jasso was 62 and recently retired.

"To have to admit that you have a daughter who can't, or won't care for her children, that's very humbling," Jasso said. "I think the biggest challenge I faced was the behavioral problems."

That, plus financial challenges and other questions lead Jasso to Arizona's Children Association's K.A.R.E. Program, which stands for Kinship, Adoption, Resource and Education.

"We're a GPS system for the family," said Brenda Ives, who works with families daily as a kinship navigator.

"We call it hand holding, can you help me figure this out? Can you help me understand the lingo of the court? Can you help me understand what CPS is looking for, from us, to offer these children permanency," said Ives.

The new website, azkinship.org, was designed with caregivers like Jasso in mind. It provides instant access to everything from education, to advocacy, even support groups in their area.

"That's where you can vent, and you find that you're not alone because there are many of us out there," said Jasso.

There are in fact thousands of them. In June of last year the Arizona Department of Economic Security reported 4,826 children were in kinship foster care throughout the state.

Jasso now spends her time helping other kinship caregivers and encouraging them to share their stories.

"Advocate for yourself," she said. "There are resources, it's just looking for them and asking for help."

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