CLARKSBURG, W.Va. The United Way of Harrison and Doddridge Counties help fund their partner agency, Healthy GrandFamilies to provide social work, education, and help to grandparents raising grandchildren on their own.

The concept of the program came from West Virginia State University, which did pilot programs, and did data-based research evidence in 2015. However, the first program for Harrison County started in 2018. Healthy GrandFamilies offers resources and educational components that allow them to parent in the twenty-first century.

Healthy GrandFamilies is grant-funded by the United Way, which pays for their salary. Social workers make direct contact with the grandparents to provide their resources. Without funding from the United Way, these workers would not be able to provide their listening ears and support.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, there are various challenges that grandparents face while raising grandchildren. A few are physical and mental health, financial resources, and social connections.

Julie Salmon, a social worker for Healthy GrandFamilies in Harrison County, gave a few insights on how to support grandparents raising grandchildren.

“If you see somebody who might be a grandparent raising grandchildren, support them,” Salmon said. “I mean, just rides, you know, like getting around in the community, supporting them if their child wants to do an outside activity. Letting them know, if you need help, call me.”

As a social worker, she mentioned that her input takes helping grandparents to another level. Salmon will get referrals or calls from grandparents who are not interested or engaged in the educational unit, but will just want to talk, and have a listening ear. If the United Way did not fund her salary, she would not be able to provide her social resources.

Salmon graduated with a social work degree two years ago, where her main study was geriatrics. She did her field placement with the agency and when the position became open, they thought of her because she took such interest in it.

Percentage of grandparents living with own grandchildren from 2013 to 2017 in West Virginia counties. (WBOY Image)

In 2021, grandfamilies.org compiled data that shows 22,053 grandparents were responsible for their grandchildren in West Virginia during 2021.

“Our county has high rates of grandparents raising grandchildren, other counties have higher rates,” Salmon said. “The importance is that this is happening in silence, it doesn’t get talked about, and there’s a bit of a stigma.”

By supporting these grandparents, we are supporting the kids. Salmon is not trying to draw attention to certain grandparents or to put anyone in an uncomfortable position, but rather, to let others know to be supportive if they know grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

If anyone knows a grandparent raising grandchildren, who may need some help, or is interested in upcoming programs, they can find more information here.