Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program at UTHSC Receives $1.87 Million Grant

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Teresa English, Dr. Fred Palmer, Dr. Bruce Keisling, Dr. Carolyn Graff, Belinda Hardy, Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program staff, and relative caregivers attended today’s luncheon in celebration of the program.

Since 2001, the Relative Caregiver Program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has helped ensure that children whose parents cannot care for them are able to remain in their family’s care, instead of the foster care system.

Relative caregivers are family members who are related to a child by blood, marriage, or adoption and meet the Department of Children’s Services eligibility criteria for the program. The program supports the abilities of the relative caregivers (grandparents, aunts, older siblings) to maintain a stable and supportive environment for children when parents are unable. The resources available through the program help aid relatives and the children they care for socially, educationally, and financially.

The Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program, which is directed by the Center on Developmental Disabilities at UTHSC, recently was awarded a 30-month contract totaling $1.87 million from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to support its operation.

The services offered by the SCRCP include caregiver support groups, information and referral, education and informational workshops, respite and enrichment services, family advocacy, emergency one-time financial or start-up assistance, material assistance, and youth and teen activity groups. Although the Department of Children’s Services provides funding, it is directly not involved in the program.

While the funds from the contract will benefit the operation of the program, the contract will also fund a new stipend program, in which relative caregivers who are eligible will receive a monthly stipend to aid the care of their children. Relative caregivers have not received a stipend previously.

“We are excited because we know that many of our families will benefit from receiving funding,” said Teresa English, program administrator in the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program. “We are hoping that all our families will be eligible, and this will open so many doors for them to do things for their children that they could not afford.”

Free developmental screenings for children will be another addition to the program.

The services provided help children who experienced the death of parents, abandonment, abuse or neglect, or the incarceration of a parent, and ensure they are cared for and raised by relatives, which may decrease trauma to a child.

Since the program launched, the staff has supported more than 9,000 children in more than 6,500 families, and approximately 95% of the children have not entered the state’s foster care system.

The SCRCP has assisted relative caregivers financially with essentials such as utilities, furniture, clothing, and other items. “Dr. Kennard Brown (executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC) and the university have been supportive of the program by sponsoring campus toy drives and school supply giveaways for the children,” English said. “Also, the university has allowed our families who are struggling with food to access the Campus Cupboard twice a month.”

In addition, the SCRCP’s enrichment services, which are opportunities that help enhance the children’s learning and social interaction, have included park visits, yearly trips to other cities, and other activities.

“We also help pay for senior dues, prom, band fees, or any of those services, we would provide it at no cost to them” English said. “We assisted one young man, who was excelling well in school, with finishing the finances of his study abroad trip. We never want our children to be denied of opportunities because they can’t afford it.”

The program hosts annual events and projects including a gala for the boys and girls mentoring group, and their “Hearts of Gold” event for caregivers, an evening created to celebrate relative caregivers featuring food, gifts, and dancing.

In 2021, the SCRCP was honored by the Memphis Business Journal with one of its Health Care Heroes awards, which are given to an individual or organization for service to enhance health care across the city and the Mid-South. The SCRCP was honored in the community outreach category.

The SCRCP held a luncheon today in the Mooney Library to recognize relative caregivers and children, staff, the relative caregiver advisory board, and community partners.

“Community is about helping each other, and I’m hearing that this is the program that’s all about helping disadvantaged families,” Peter Buckley, MD, chancellor of UTHSC, said during the luncheon. “I salute you, admire you, and on behalf of our institution, I also thank you.”

“Your contribution is immeasurable,” Dr. Brown said during the event. “What makes a difference every day is the role that you all play in trying to help manage the lives of the people in this community. Thank you for the work that you do.”

For additional information about the SCRCP, located at 239 South Dudley St., call 901.448.3133 or email scrcp@uthsc.edu.