CHARLESTON — With just $300,000 from the state, the Healthy Grandfamilies program started at West Virginia State University has taken off in a full sprint, spreading support for grandparents taking on the role of parent once more to all 55 counties.

Bonnie Dunn, project director of the program, gave an update to the Joint Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care on Tuesday morning. Dunn said that thanks to the state funds, each county received $1,000 to start a Healthy Grandfamilies program.

The six-month program provides support to grandparents raising grandchildren or other relatives, teaching them how to navigate the state system, how to get assistance, and how to be a parent in 2020. Dunn said in one course about the dangers of social media, a woman asked her what an app was.

“How can she protect her child from the dangers of the internet when she doesn’t even know what an app is?” Dunn said.

Also with the state funds, the program is developing a Center for Healthy Grandfamilies that will eventually lead to a center of excellence, Dunn said. Program officials also are looking to hire a resource manager, whose salary will be paid for with the legislative funds.

They have also signed a memorandum of understanding with Children’s Home Society of West Virginia to staff social workers in some counties, while in other counties the local United Way is funding social worker positions for the program.

Dunn said the state has to continue on the path it is on.

“We are seeing tremendous success, positive impacts on families across the state where this program is taking place,” she said. “I just had a call coming up here with a person from Marion County. They just finished up a program and the grandparents said they never felt so supported.

“I know we’re living in a day and time, folks, when there are millions of needs, and I know the Legislature gets hit with a lot of requests, but this is truly a situation of pay now or pay later.”

West Virginia ties Mississippi for having the second highest number of children living with grandparents, Dunn said.

Nationwide, Dunn estimated 2.5 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren.

“These grandparents are doing society a favor … by taking care of these children and trying to keep them out of the foster care system,” Dunn said.

She estimated grandfamilies have saved $4 billion each year in U.S. foster care costs.

For every child in foster care, Dunn said, at least 25 other children were being raised by grandparents. In developing the grandfamilies program, Dunn spoke with the county school systems, which reported that between 30% and 60% of students were not living with mom and dad.

In Logan County, they reported 72% of students are living with someone other than their parents, Dunn said.

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