CHEYENNE — Alice Carter took in two of her grandchildren two decades ago because their mother, her daughter, had mental health issues and couldn’t properly care for them.
She had no idea of the legal, financial and emotional problems ahead.
The first wall Carter hit was when the boy, then 18 months old, spiked a fever and she took him to the emergency room in the middle of the night. The emergency room staff refused to treat the boy because Carter wasn’t his legal guardian.
Carter summoned her other daughter to the hospital, where both women claimed she was the boy’s mother. The boy finally received the necessary medical treatment.
Carter checked with an attorney and found the cost of obtaining legal guardianship was more than she could afford. So Carter moved her granddaughter to another school.
When Carter visited a church with a food bank, the people in charge referred her to Casey Family Programs. She became a Casey Family Parent in 1996 and received financial support and training similar to what is required for foster care.
While working for Community Action of Laramie County and feeling constrained by a federal grant that allowed her to only work with clients 55 and older, Carter developed the idea for a broad legal guardian advocacy program.
Carter sought a separate, more flexible organization committed to helping relatives and friends who were trying to raise children and keep them out of foster care.
In 2004, Casey Family Programs supported her new nonprofit, Wyoming Kinship Advocacy, with in-kind contributions for travel and postage, but then stepped back and is no longer involved.
Carter’s program currently operates under the umbrella of the Wyoming Citizens Review Panel, a federally financed group mandated to review the quality of Wyoming Department of Family Services programs dealing with children.
Wyoming Kinship Advocacy also receives federal funds through the Wyoming Children’s Trust Fund and grants from Union Pacific Railroad and AdoptUsKids.org.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently recognized Wyoming Kinship Advocacy for helping keep 800 children out of foster care since 2004.
A recent report from the foundation cited an influx of kids being cared for by relatives and family friends who receive minimal assistance and encounter the same barriers Carter faced.
The number of cases of so-called kinship care increased 18 percent nationally over the past decade, the report said.
One goal of the Casey Foundation is to safely reduce the number of children in foster care by 50 percent by 2020.
The report said three percent, or 4,000, of all Wyoming children were cared for by extended family members and friends on average during a recent three-year period.
Today, a major task for Carter, 59, and her one staff member is to offer caregivers free help in filing the necessary District Court papers to receive temporary legal guardianship.
The filing cost is $70, which is considerably cheaper than the estimated $1,500 or more it costs to retain an attorney.
Carter worked with AARP and other interested groups on a bill adopted in 2005, sponsored by then-state Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, to allow people to file for temporary guardianships without having to go through an attorney.
“This service is vitally important because kinship care providers are more likely to be poor, single, older, less-educated and unemployed,” Carter said.
She said 70 percent of the people she works with are living in poverty.
The next step is to provide prepared kits, or packets of documents, for permanent guardianship which relatives and friends can file with courts.