Catholic Charities’ Kinship ministry serves grandparents, others cast into parenting roles

Makena Clawson

Every month, a Catholic Charities program called Kinship Caregivers serves over 60 families where the primary caregiver is not the child’s parent, but another family member, often a grandparent. For the last 20 years, this ministry has been walking with these families to help provide resources, stability and support.

“I’ve been fortunate to work in the program over 8 years,” said Carrie Savage, Manager of Kinship and Senior Services at Catholic Charities. Savage has witnessed children get their Eagle Scout, graduate from higher education and other achievements as they’ve gone through the program. Savage works closely with Kerry Lutz, Bilingual Program Coordinator for Kinship Caregivers, to serve those families and children who are cast into this type of situation.

“Once they have that safe and stable home, they just really blossom,” Savage said.

In order to provide this safety and stability, the kinship program has eight different support groups each month, with four in the Denver metro area and the others in Arvada, Thornton and Castle Rock. They also have a Spanish speaking group.

At these meetings, caregivers can share their experiences, stories and struggles and also learn information about an applicable parenting topic. Children are welcome at the support groups, and have time to be kids, rather than another therapy session on top of what they might already be receiving, Savage said.

Other services include working with families on an individual basis, providing referrals to different resources they need, and also on a larger scale, having events for the families to come together for fun or for an educational purpose.

“We serve everybody across all faiths and backgrounds,” Savage said.

Their highest demographics for caregivers they see are single grandmothers, mostly in their 60s. They also serve great-grandparents raising children, aunts and uncles, and psychological kin: a godparent or a family friend.

These caregivers are raising the children for a variety of reasons, Savage said. Some parents have passed away, others have physical or mental health issues, substance abuse problems, are incarcerated, or lack the financial means or the skill set to parents.

New caregivers are always welcome to attend a group, and there is no waitlist. Sometimes a new caregiver will be unsure about attending their first group, Savage said.

“They come and really just feel like they’re not alone,” she said. The caregivers present “understand, they’ve been there. They’ve been through a lot and can offer a lot of wisdom.”

Savage has seen fruit from the program not only in the achievements the families have made, but in the relationships they’ve built with each other. The kids in groups come from similar backgrounds and form friendships that make them want to keep coming back, she said. Caregivers also support each other through loss and difficult times. Some even want to give back and become donors to the program.

Savage got her start in the program as an Americorps volunteer for Catholic Charities. She studied sociology and psychology and was interested in family dynamics and how these dynamics arise.

If you or someone you know is a caregiver for a relative’s child and are interested in learning more about the services Catholic Charities provides, visit their website at ccdenver.org/familyservices/kinship-caregiver-program or call (720) 799-9254.

COMING UP: Q&A: How the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps keep kids safe

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Protecting kids should be one of the highest priorities of all youth-serving institutions and organizations. In 2002, following the breakout of a terrible scandal within the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened to create the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. To learn more about the Dallas Charter, check out this post.

One of the fruits of the Dallas Charter was the requirement that all dioceses in the U.S. create an office specifically for keeping kids safe. In the Archdiocese of Denver, we have the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which has been a key part of our diocese since shortly after the Dallas Charter was implemented. Headed by Christi Sullivan, who has a background in certified child protection training and has worked in the office for eight years, the Office of Child and Youth Protection has trained over 70,000 adults to recognize and report child abuse since 2002, and trains 20,000 to 25,000 kids on how to keep themselves safe each year.

We sat down with Christi to get a better idea of what she and her office do to make sure that the Church is among the safest places possible for children and youth.

Denver Catholic: What is the function of the Office of Child and Youth Protection?

Christi Sullivan: We train adults, children and adolescents to recognize and report possible abuse and neglect. We train between four and five thousand adults every year. In 2003, the first round of adult classes trained approximately 20,000 people. Since then, we have trained 4,000-5,000 adults every year.

Additionally, we train all the facilitators that provide safe environment training for the adults. I have roughly 250 facilitators in the diocese. We supply the curriculum that’s been promulgated by our archbishop and we also train parish staff and administer and maintain a database of 80,000 adults that have been trained since 2003. We also provide support and guidance for the 160+ entities and organizations in the diocese that work diligently to ensure they are safe environment compliant. We are available if they have questions or concerns about curriculum, reporting, background screening, the Code of Conduct or any concern regarding child safety.

DC: What is the process like if somebody has an allegation of abuse?

CS: If somebody has a suspicion of abuse or neglect with a child, at-risk-adult or elder, obviously they contact the authorities immediately. If the person is in imminent danger, they call 911. If it’s not an imminent danger situation, then they need to call 844-CO-4-KIDS for children or the county adult protective services office.

DC: How does your office intervene and assist?

CS: If they’re talking to me, it’s probably potentially a concern with somebody either who’s an employee or volunteer within the archdiocese. So, once the report to the authorities is made, we ask the report is made to us. Then we would follow up, when appropriate, when the authorities have finished their investigation and then we follow through with an investigation and take appropriate action, up to and including termination.
Also, Jim Langley is our victim assistance coordinator. If there’s anybody that just needs to speak to any kind of abuse or neglect situation, he’s available. St. Raphael’s Counseling through Catholic Charities is also available to help people.

DC: What is the process for somebody who wants to be safe environment trained?

CS: Anybody can go to a safe environment training anywhere in the archdiocese — they don’t have to be Catholic. And those are listed on my website, ArchDen.org/child-protection under “Find a Class”. I think right now we have about 20 classes in the next 30 days.

DC: Tell me about the curriculum you use.

CS: We’re going to soon have a new curriculum that’s more updated and current. The curriculum we have now is not irrelevant, the information is still incredibly relevant — Pedophiles have not changed their modus operandi. But the new curriculum is going to expand on that and include things like Internet safety, bullying, suicide awareness and other safety areas of concern for families, parents, mentors and ministries. It will also provide training for reporting at-risk-adult and elder abuse and neglect.

DC: Is this curriculum required in public schools?

CS: Safe environment training is not required in public schools in Colorado. Curriculum is available to public schools and has been for about three years now, but to my knowledge, the only school district that’s picked it up is Adams 12. Aurora public schools just started training teachers this year with their own custom curriculum, but they are not including parents and kids yet as they are still developing curricula for those groups.

DC: So this has been a norm in the Catholic Church and Catholic schools for 17 years.
CS: Yes.

DC: And for all of the other schools in the state, it’s not even required.

CS: No it is not. In 2015, Colorado introduced SB 15-020, a version of what is commonly known as Erin’s Law. The full version of the law was not passed as introduced, which would have required safe environment training for students, teachers and parents. After committee hearings, the final version of the law allowed for a new position of a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Specialist at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center and a reference booklet listing available curricula has been published, but the version of the law that passed does not require school districts and charter schools to include safe environment curriculum.

To learn more about the Office of Child and Youth Protection and attend a Safe Environment Training, visit archden.org/child-protection.