Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Creating Connections for Kinship Caregivers

Are you raising a relative’s child?

Kinship care has been a nationally-growing phenomenon for the last decade. Census reports indicate that more than 198,000 children under age 18 live in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives accounting for 12.2% of all children under 18 in the state (U.S. Census, 2010). Research indicates that children in kinship care experience greater stability than those in foster care. However, many kinship families do not receive the support and resources that would help them create more stability for their household.

Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA) kinship programs have worked for years to empower the community to embrace and support these very special families and their potential to provide a positive alternative to traditional foster care. We announced our newest kinship program, Arizona Kinship Support Services, nearly a year ago when we received a federal grant “Family Connections Child Welfare/TANF Collaboration in Kinship Navigation Programs” funded through the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, which allows us to continue our work with kinship families and further grow the program.

The Arizona Kinship Support Services program provides support groups, legal services, parenting skills education, foster care licensing and adoption support, as well as connections to food, housing and clothing resources, and much more. The program also provides assistance to caregivers involved with CPS, DES and other government agencies.

Our kinship staff has been hard at work behind the scenes and we are now proud to announce a brand new website designed just for the needs of kinship caregivers! is designed to help kinship caregivers navigate the various systems that they will encounter when raising their relative’s children and connect them to the resources they need.

“We recognized that in this digital age there was not a local online resource that responded to all of the needs of kinship families,” said Candy Espino, director of operations, child welfare. “In addition to all of our kinship work throughout the last decade, we are now able to take a well-rounded approach by integrating an online resource.”

Each kinship family is unique. allows kinship caregivers to independently research their local resources or connect directly with an AzCA support staff who will assist them in determining the type of kinship family they are, what their needs are, and the best available resources.

Through the website, our caregivers are also given the opportunity to connect with a support group or meet others in the same situation for emotional support. In addition, the website also invites people to share their personal stories and read about those with parallel stories.

“Our vision for the website is that it will link caregivers to real community supports to meet their current needs,” said Espino. “We relied on the expertise of our kinship caregivers to assist in the creation of this website to ensure that it met their needs and was as user-friendly as possible.”

Visit the Arizona Kinship Support Services at Support services can also be obtained by calling the Caregiver Hotline at 1.888.737.7494.

Friday, August 16, 2013

In My Shoes Celebrates 10 Years

In My Shoes, a member of AzCA’s family of agencies, is proud to announce our 10 year anniversary! In 2003, In My Shoes was created by a group of committed individuals composed of alumni of foster care and their closest allies in the child welfare system. The mission of In My Shoes is to ensure that young people experiencing out-of-home care will be supported through their transitional years to develop the competencies to realize their potential as adults. We serve our mission by offering peer-mentoring to youth living in the foster care system, signature events for youth, and trainings for youth, alumni, and professionals. The unique aspect of In My Shoes (IMS) is that all of the staff and mentors are adults who were once raised in the foster care system and are committed to helping youth recognize that they are Strong! Resilient! Amazing! individuals capable of great success!

In 2003, with the help from AVIVA Children’s Services as IMS’ fiscal agent, IMS became an operating program and received our first grant from Every Voice In Action. With an initial grant of just $8,000, we hired our first employee and celebrated our first mentor match! Within a year, we became an official organization and received 501(c)3 not for profit status. Within a few years, IMS secured state and behavioral health contracts and served over 500 youth annually through their various programs and events.

In 2010, In My Shoes joined up with Arizona’s Children Association and became a member of its family of agencies. Today, IMS is working on growing its one-on-one mentoring program statewide. IMS has teamed up with AzCA’s Independent Living Program to offer mentorship to youth transitioning from foster care to independence. Currently IMS has volunteers in the process of becoming mentors in Bisbee, Cottonwood, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Prescott, Tucson, and Yuma.

Our one-on-one mentoring program is intended to be a two year match for youth ages 16 – 17 to help guide their transition from foster care to adulthood. Although the youth and the mentor may celebrate the success of their match and formally dissolve their match after two years, their relationship typically lasts much longer.

“Many of our matches become more than just a mentor/mentee relationship. For many of us who have aged out of foster care, our In My Shoes family is one of the strongest connections we have. We become sisters, grandma/granddaughter, uncle/nephew, or whatever makes sense to each individual match,” said Christa Drake, program coordinator and co-founder of In My Shoes.

Tamra Shea and Tamara Hanover were matched in 2009 when Tamara was 16 years-old. Although Tamara moved to California when she turned 18, she still calls home to her In My Shoes family for advice and support.

“Tamra and In My Shoes is always there whenever I have questions, need to talk, or want someone to celebrate good news with,” said Tamara Hanover.

In My Shoes provides mentorship to teens in foster care, but they also offer support and family bonding for the alumni who have either been in the program or serve as mentors.

“The connection I have with my In My Shoes family is different than any other connection I have ever had with an organization. When I became involved with In My Shoes, I had already raised my son, was a successful career woman, and had a strong connection in the community. But, I never talked about my foster care experience to anyone, even my closest friends. In My Shoes has helped me open up about my own experiences. I am now proud of everything I have overcome and know that it was those experiences that made me the strong woman I am today. I not only talk about my own experiences to my friends, but I use my experiences to advocate for better services and support for children and youth still enduring the foster care system,” said Tamra Shea.

The unique model of IMS is supported by research which shows that peer support services are associated with improved self-esteem, decision making skills, and social functioning. Arizona’s Children Association is the only agency in the nation that offers peer mentoring services where all of the IMS program staff and mentors are foster alumni.

We need more mentors for foster youth! If you were once raised in the foster care system and would like to become a mentor, please contact Christa Drake at (520) 747-1533 or via e-mail at or click here to fill out a volunteer form. To donate to In My Shoes, donate online at or please contact Becky Holton at (602) 253-1620 ext. 2302 or