SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - There are an estimated 3 million grandparents raising their own grandchildren in the United States, according to census data. Some of them are right here in the Ozarks, but for many, resources are lacking.
Seven years ago, Kimberly Shook's life turned upside down.
"Children's division came in and said, you're either taking these kids or we are and there was no way I was going to let my kids go to a foster home," she said.
Shook's daughter had wrecked a car, with her two children inside. Shook had no choice but to step up.
"It can happen to anyone," she said.
Even though there are millions like her, Shook said, she felt she was the only one.
"I felt like I was completely alone," she said.
So she started a Facebook group, Grands Raising Grands in and around Springfield, MO.
Click here HERE for that group.
"Three years into it, we're looking at 557 members," Shook said.
It's not just grandparents, but also aunts and uncles, even neighbors who are taking kids in. With so many local families in need, Foster Adopt Connect took notice.
Shandy Miller has been working with the organization since 2018, and said resources are lacking for family members raising kids, since Children's Division representatives don't get involved if children are in a safe, stable home, but that doesn't mean there aren't challenges.
"Often there's just no real starting point and these families and kiddos end up falling through the cracks," said Shandy Miller.
Miller is the first "kinship navigator" with the organization.
"Kin is a very big, broad word, because it can be anyone who is raising children that are not theirs that suddenly had this thrust upon them and need the help and support," Miller said.
The program rolled out in Springfield in the fall, after being piloted in Kansas City. Miller said it is still in the beginning stages.
She's an advocate of sorts, a teammate for caregivers. She said many now have responsibilities they probably were not prepared for, like how to enroll kids in school or insurance programs.
"So if we can play a small role in that, helping them feel equipped and empowered to do this, we're only just helping that next generation," Miller said.
Shook said knowing where to start can be the hardest part, and doing it alone is a struggle.
"Put that in the back of your mind and realize that, yeah, I could possibly be walking in their shoes," Shook said. "If you know someone who is raising a grandkid, be there."
The "kinship navigator" program has limited availability as Miller is the only representative. Families enrolled in the program will have access to use Sammy's Window, the food and clothing bank at Foster Adopt Connect.
Right now, the program is only available to Greene County families.
For more information about Foster Adopt Connect, click HERE.