SPRING HILL — Like any mother, Judy Phelps has hopes and dreams for her children.
Twelve years ago, the 58-year-old stepped in to raise her two granddaughters when their parents could no longer do it. Phelps has ushered the girls, now 16 and 14, toward adulthood just like she did her own daughter.
"I just want them to be happy and have a happy life," Phelps said. "They're doing fine, like any other teenagers who have a single mom. That's how we look at it."
Phelps' granddaughters are among an estimated 14,000 children in the region — and more than 258,000 in the state — who are being raised by relative caregivers. In social services circles, it's known as kinship care.
This weekend, relative caregivers like Phelps and the professionals who provide them services are invited to the second annual Kinship Care Conference in Ocala. The event is hosted by Kids Central Inc., which oversees child welfare in Hernando, Citrus, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.
The gathering aims to raise awareness of the complex issues faced by grandparents and relative caregivers by providing information and resources. The event will feature speakers and workshops focusing on the legal, financial and social challenges of raising another family member's child.
For example, because they aren't always known to child welfare service providers, many relative caregivers miss out on much-needed services and support that a foster parent would receive. Less than 1,000 children cared for by relative caregivers are known in the social services system.
Kids Central hopes to get the word out to anyone in a similar situation, said spokeswoman Lynn Routh. That's why the conference is open to anyone who lives in Florida.
Along with the conference, the agency is also reaching out to relative caregivers through its "Second Time Around" program. The free program consists of eight consecutive weekly two-hour sessions and includes child care during the meetings. In Hernando, the group will begin meeting in June.
"Like everything else, it's been a big eye-opening experience," Phelps said.
From learning how to stretch her fixed income to maneuvering a school system that's nothing like the one she was a part of years ago with her daughter, the grandmother said that being a parent a second time around can be trying.
"Now that I have teenagers, I have a whole other element to deal with," she said. "Their sexual education, talking about birth control, all that stuff. It's all very open and I'm learning more."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at [email protected], or (352) 848-1432.