‘Grandfamily’ summit focus on law, kinship

Posted Aug. 20, 2008, at 11:28 p.m.

There are about 11,000 children in Maine being raised by family members other than their parents — aunts and uncles, grandparents, older siblings and others.

The challenges of being a “grandfamily” — the term that has been coined for such arrangements — are many, ranging from the physical difficulty older caregivers may have keeping up with active youngsters to legal issues of guardianship and custody. That’s why the Bangor nonprofit organization Families and Children Together has teamed up with the Center on Aging at the University of Maine and the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project to present the third annual Maine Summit for Grandfamilies. The focus of this year’s event, to be held next month, is “The Law, Kinship and Children.”

Some children are in the care of family members because their own parents are serving in the military, but the majority are youngsters whose parents have died, are incarcerated, or have been found abusive or otherwise unfit. Their numbers are increasing as the state pursues a child welfare policy of keeping youngsters in the care of their extended families rather than placing them in foster or adoptive homes if their own parents are deemed unfit.

The coming conference is intended for families as well as the professionals who work with them, including social workers, lawyers and adoption specialists. Attorney General Steven Rowe will give the opening address. The keynote speaker will be New York attorney Gerald Wallace, coordinator of the New York State Kinship Navigator program, which provides information and referrals to grandfamilies. Wallace also serves as a consultant to the Office of Children and Family Services in the state of New York.

Other attorneys will speak on a variety of issues, including how to gain legal custody of children and an explanation of Maine’s policies regarding placement of children with family members. A four-member “grandfamily panel” will discuss personal experiences, and a panel of lawyers, judges and legislators will discuss ways in which current public policies are succeeding and what needs to change.

The daylong conference will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, in the Jewitt Hall Auditorium at the University of Maine at Augusta. Registration is free for grandfamilies and $25 for professionals. Preregistration is requested. More information is available online at www.mainekids-kin.org or by calling Janelle Wuoristo at 941-2347.

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