KinConnector

THE ISSUE

“Pennsylvania has started a hotline for grandparents raising grandchildren and (for) other families in kinship care situations,” LNP’s Heather Stauffer reported Aug. 6. The number for the newly launched KinConnector is 1-866-546-2111. The hotline arrives as more children are living with grandparents or other family members because their parents are seeking treatment for opioids or have died from an issue related to their addiction. The hotline is the first step for KinConnector; state officials say a website of resources will launch later this year.

Step by step, Lancaster County and Pennsylvania are making progress in battling the opioid epidemic.

In March, LNP’s Lindsey Blest reported that fatal overdoses in Lancaster County dropped by 38% last year — the first decrease since deaths from the disease began climbing in 2015.

In May, Stauffer noted that prominent insurer Highmark “lowered the overall number of opioid prescriptions filled for commercially insured Pennsylvania residents by 15%” in 2018. Additionally, 90% of those Highmark members who were prescribed their first opioid received a week’s supply or less, in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s safe prescribing guidelines.

In June, the Republican-led Pennsylvania Senate approved a package of bills to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic by improving prescription drug monitoring, limiting opioid prescriptions and targeting drug dealers, among other steps. Those bills are now in the state House for consideration.

And, earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf cited new data from the Drug Enforcement Agency showing that overdose deaths in Pennsylvania dropped 18% from 2017 to 2018.

Step by step.

Progress has been made.

The governor correctly termed the overdose statistics “a good piece of news,” while also correctly noting that “our work must continue to address the devastating effects of substance use disorder.”

That work includes supporting grandparents who, in the words of Pennsylvania Aging Secretary Robert Torres, might “suddenly find themselves as a caregiver for a grandchild or other family member.”

We wrote about this topic last summer, too. We applauded a new federal law, signed by President Donald Trump, that established an advisory council to gather resources and recommendations for the estimated 2.5 million American grandparents who are primary caretakers for their grandchildren.

In our state, tens of thousands of grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren, according to grandfamilies.org. About one-third of those grandparents are over age 60.

These grandparents must, according to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, meet the challenges of “delaying retirement, navigating school systems, bridging the generational gap, working through the court to secure custody and finding mental health services.” And, as the LNP Editorial Board noted last summer: “Add to all that the challenge of finding oneself immersed — yet again — in teacher conferences, sports practice carpools, pediatrician appointments, extracurricular equipment costs and homework woes.”

All while, in some cases, also caring for the son or daughter with an opioid addiction. It can be too much to shoulder.

And so Pennsylvania’s new hotline is another welcome step in addressing the fallout of the drug crisis.

The KinConnector hotline helps grandparents and other family members access local, state and federal resources. It can also help with connections to health, financial and legal services; connections to parenting advice; finding behavioral services or support groups in the caller’s area; and accessing the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“They are navigating a big change, often years after raising their own children,” said state Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “KinConnector will be the bridge that helps families identify resources that can ease this process for the entire kinship family.”

Hotline days and hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. According to a state news release, it “is staffed by knowledgeable, empathetic social service professionals.”

This hotline seems to be another “good piece of news.” We hope word spreads about its availability, and that those who need it most take advantage.

Grandparents who are thrust back into the role of caregivers for minors should know that they are never alone.

“For anyone acting as a caregiver, it’s crucial to have a central place you can go for support and to connect with people in similar circumstances,” Torres added.

The KinConnector hotline is certainly one place for that support. Our neighborhoods, communities and social institutions can provide others.

Step by step, we can do this.