The well-being of underserved children and their caregivers has always been the focus of the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program (RCP) at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). Established in 2001, the RCP supports children who are being cared for by relatives because their parents are unable to do so. It is a collaboration between UTHSC and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
“The majority of our caregivers take care of children who are not theirs biologically, and they do this with little to no financial support from the government or other family members,” said Laura Teresa English, MSSW, program administrator for the RCP.
The program offers family services such as case management, support, group mentoring, referral services, and limited financial assistance. The most important resource that they offer in their opinion, is hope. “We offer children and their caregivers hope, that in spite of the financial situations and challenges they may encounter, RCP staff are there to offer support and encouragement that things will get better,” English said. “We know our families well and have established relationships, letting them know that we are only a phone call away in their time of need or crisis. We are also there with them to celebrate their life events such as graduating from high school or college, getting a new job or car, and yes, even starting a new business.”
RCP has three mentoring groups for participants to actively engage with each other and be a part of the community which includes a mentoring group for boys, called HEROES, which stands for Honorable, Exceptional, Respectful, Optimistic, Energizing, Smart, a similar group for girls called Girls Empowered and Mentored for Success (GEMS). The goal of these mentoring groups is to educate and inspire the children enrolled in the caregiver program. Both meet once a month and offer positive advice, life-skills training, and exposure to successful adults in the community. This past June, Little GEMS, for girls ages 9 to 11, was introduced. Older GEMS serve as mentors.
In addition to the mentoring programs, RCP also has programs throughout the year, including Hearts of Gold, a celebration of caregivers held in February and the Payless Shoe Drive, sponsored by the Department of Human Services and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated, held in August. One of the program’s biggest events is the annual campus toy drive at UTHSC, which is held each December. The estimated total amount of donated toys, money, and food for 2017 was about $4,000.
“I am eternally grateful that the campus sees the importance of helping and supporting our community,” English said. “It is a joy to work with individuals such as Dr. Ken Brown, Ms. Pam Houston, Mr. Granger Butler, Ms. Kmily Manns and so many other departments on campus that truly care about our children and being a part of changing lives.”
The biggest message that the RCP wants to convey is that they are committed as a team to make sure that each family that comes in contact with the program will be treated with respect and love. “We will do everything within our power to provide services and resources that address the needs of our families, English said. “If our program cannot assist, we will help to find other resources and services available.”
For more information, please contact the UTHSC Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program at 901.448.3133.