Wanda Izzard’s husband died of a sudden stroke in 2004. He was a young father in his 30’s, and when he died Wanda became a single mother to their three small children. Wanda met someone else and six years ago gave birth to Ashlyn. The relationship did not work out and now she is a full-time teacher and makes it work raising four children on her own.

In 2013 everything changed. Wanda’s sister, a drug-addict, could not care for her four children. The Department of Social Services called and asked Wanda to take them in so that they would not go into foster care. She accepted and her family grew from five to nine overnight. The children were homeless before they came to live with and they moved in with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The adjustment was not an easy one. When her four nephews first came to live with her, they had to leave the house 5:30 am every day just to get everyone to their different schools on time. Her grocery bill grew exponentially now that she was shopping for four additional boys. It was so stressful at times that Wanda would cry at night wondering how she would be able to provide for all the children. She never let the children see her upset though, for fear that they would worry.

Having children so close in age, especially teenagers with such different personalities, was also a struggle. For her nephews, adjusting to a normal routine of dinner, baths and bedtime also took some time.  However, after a while, the children became accustomed to living with one another.  According to Wanda, “everybody supports everybody.”  If one child has a school play, the rest of the family is in the audience cheering them on.  She constantly reminds the children that they are a team.

Wanda found out about Helping and Lending Outreach Services (HALOS) from the guidance counselor at the school where she works.  She now attends the HALOS support group meetings every chance she gets.  They remind her that “everyone has a story” and “every child deserves a chance at life.” The support she has received through the HALOS Kinship Care program has made a difference in their lives. She has received information from other caregivers about where to go for different resources, including food. Her financial strain is lessened with help from HALOS sending her kids to summer camp and assisting with back to school needs.

Thinking back over the past two years, Wanda shared that she “wouldn’t change it for the world” and “you never know what you’re capable of until you’re in that situation.”

In the spring of 2012, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina held a Listening Session with (HALOS) representatives and community stakeholders in order to hear first-hand the stories, experiences and challenges of kin caregivers. The challenges seen by a large number of families mirrored Wanda Izzard’s story; the lack of financial and support services specifically for kin caregivers. In order to advocate and bring a voice to kin caregivers across South Carolina, the Foundation launched a Kinship Care Initiative in early 2014 as a continuation of the stories heard from the Listening Session.

The Kinship Care Initiative continues the Foundation’s mission to help others live out of poverty by advocating and raising awareness for families that are often overlooked due to their socioeconomic status. As a part of the beginning phase of the Initiative, research was conducted on the current status of kinship care in South Carolina and how we compare to model states. The Research Mini-Brief was released in early 2014 and addressed issues ranging from the benefits and challenges kin caregivers face to recommendations for South Carolina to improve kinship provider outreach.

The Initiative is dedicated to improving kinship families’ well-being, resources and services. This will be achieved through the development of a Kinship Care Task Force, grant making, and strategic partnerships with organizations that are committed to improving outcomes for kinship families. Our sincere hope as a Foundation is to increase permanency, stability and livelihood of kinship families so that children in our state live in safe, loving homes.

For more information, contact Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, Senior Research Director