Over 7,000 children across West Virginia are formally being cared for by a person other than a biological parent. When this happens, there are so many hurdles to cross for both the child and the new guardian. Physical, emotional, financial, legal, and cultural barriers to becoming successful new parents abound.
Catholic Charities West Virginia’s (CCWVa) Relatives as Parents (RAP) program seeks to support these new families and give participants the resources they need to be informed, effective, and responsible parents. The RAP program is run through the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center (CCNC) in Wheeling and is funded by the James B. Chambers Memorial Foundation and the Robinson Parlin Trust Fund.
Monthly meetings, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, included guest speakers, group support and sharing time for the adults, supervised crafts and conversations for the kids, and a catered meal.
“All of the speakers were so beneficial,” said Christine Virelli-Kuhens. She and her husband Aaron care for their granddaughter Destiny. “So many of us didn’t know the resources available, but RAP really guided us to it.”
Among the guest speakers, Christine mentioned the representative from the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) seemed to have the greatest impact for the group; the representative gave an overview of DHHR processes and then took time with each family privately to answer personal questions about the system.
These meetings also build community among the participants and allow time to open up and understand their struggles together. “We all became parents from different circumstances and sets of issues,” Christine said. After breaking the ice, “we came together as a group to support each other.”
Material drop-offs and support over phone and email has sustained the program as COVID presented many difficulties.
CCWVa will continue the RAP program with a new set of families this year, using a mix of virtual and in-person meetings following proper social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing protocols.
The program runs from February through December and accepts 10 families each year with no income guidelines for the participants. CCWVa is seeking participants in Ohio County for the 2021 sessions now. Contact Diana Bell at 304-232-7157 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
Feb. 5, 2021
By Susan Hollis, Catholic Charities West Virginia Diocesan Director of Catholic Campaign for Human Development