Grandparents

Myril Houk Ray cooks dinner with grandchildren Trevor Koch, left, Krystena Koch and Taylee Koch, right, Nov. 26 at her Hazelton home.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS FILE

TWIN FALLS — A newly formed group of “kinship care” advocates in the Magic Valley is tackling Idaho’s child-custody laws. Grandparents United for Change says the state’s laws are outdated and don’t reflect today’s reality.

Only one-third of children in the U.S. today live with both parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Often these children end up living with grandparents when something happens to the custodial parent.

Grandparents in Idaho, however, don’t have natural rights to their grandchildren. They must go through the same legal process as foster parents to gain guardianship or custody of their grandchildren.

The process to gain guardianship or custody of a grandchild in need of care is fraught with emotional battles and heart-wrenching legal obstacles, says the group’s founder and executive director, Myril Houk Ray.

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Myril Houk Ray

Ray

Ray formed Grandparents United a year ago, hoping to provide support for grandparents and others raising minor family members. The group created a four-member board and has since received its nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

“We have served 10 families since opening our doors,” Ray said, by providing contacts, resources and emotional support to those going through the process.

The group also created a mentoring program ready to go when school starts. Mentoring will be done “by teens who have been through the same situation as the younger kids are going through,” Ray said.

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These efforts help put out current fires, but the board is also focused on long-term solutions such as changing or amending existing child-custody laws. Ray declined to say what those changes might be.

“The committee wants to work in confidentiality at this time until they have something concrete,” she said. Once their proposal is finalized, the group will ask a state legislator to look at it.

Ray speaks from firsthand experience. She and her husband, Gil, help raise her daughter Sami’s three children. Sami is a drug addict, and the children’s father has full custody of the children at his home in Twin Falls. Krystena, Taylee and Trevor live with their grandparents two weekends a month in a modest farmhouse near Hazelton.

The farm provides a safe, stable environment, Ray said. The older children do chores and keep an eye on 100 head of sheep, herding dogs and farm cats.

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