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Lynn Urvina, kinship care grandmother and family advocate. Photo courtesy Casey Family Programs.

Lynn Urvina powerful advocate for kinship caregivers retires but “will keep stirring the pot”

Urvina says that she will continue to fight for support for families raising the children of relatives who can’t.

Lynn Urvina, a nationally recognized ardent voice for Washington grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other “kinship caregivers” – that is, people raising children of relatives – has stepped down from her official post and into retirement. 

Even so, the Olympia grandmother says she’ll continue to speak out for families like hers. Not just because it’s necessary, but because doing so is her passion.

I will never stop stirring the pot when it comes to kinship caregiver issues in Washington and across the country,” Urvina said this week. She is stepping down as a kinship care navigator for Family Education and Support Services Regional Resilience Center (FESS), based in Tumwater

A grandmother returned to parenting

Urvina and her husband became the full-time caregivers of their then 11-month-old granddaughter Nicole in 2003. At that moment, the trio became one of nearly 43,000 Washington families caring for the child of a relative. Like many kinship care providers, the couple struggled with navigating the complex state child welfare system. They felt unsupported and disconnected. 

Urvina eventually found a connection with other parents at FESS. Not long after, in 2008, she was hired as a kinship navigator for the center. It’s been her job to help kinship families find the support they need to not only survive but thrive. Urvina’s passion and personal understanding of the challenges faced by grandparents and kinship families motivated her to get involved in legislative and policy change efforts at the state and national level. Kinship families, especially grandparents raising grandchildren, have unique needs that still have not been adequately addressed, she stresses.

A recognized advocate for kinship care support

For example: “No grandparent should ever have to choose between paying for their heart medication or buying shoes for their children.”

Urvina is recognized as a leader in the kinship care support movement, here in Washington and across the U.S. She has helped to dramatically raise awareness of the needs of kinship families and to build local, state, and national support systems for them. She has promoted an “evidence-based” view of relatives raising children — that is, the use of data to demonstrate to lawmakers, funders, and the public that kinship care and programs that support it not only make positive difference in the lives of children, but save money.

Our state needs to acknowledge the millions of dollars that independent kinship families have saved our government,” she says. 

Giving families raising relatives a voice

In 2018, she was recognized with a prestigious national Casey Family Programs Excellence for Children Award. Her comments upon receiving the award touched kinship care leaders and families alike. 

“There is no age limit on love,” she said then, “and no age limit on caring about children.”

During her tenure, Urvina headed the annual statewide Voices of Children Raised by Grandparents and Other Relatives and Voices of Kinship Caregivers contests in which kids and caregivers in kinship care use writing or art to describe how their lives are positively changed by their kinship experience. Urvina says is also proud to have participated in the creation of Washington’s new Legal Assistance and Referral for Kinship (LAARK) which launches this summer.

“Now kinship caregivers will be able to call and receive free legal advice for family and other civil legal matters,” she says of LAARK. “Guardianship and custody laws in our state are confusing and paying for legal advice can be a burden.”

Hilarie Hauptman, a retired kinship program manager for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, describes Urvina as “bold, big-hearted, a fierce advocate, creative and innovative, someone who had a big impact both in Washington and nationally.”

Fire born for first-hand knowledge

That fierceness was born of experience, says Urvina, who often brought her personal story to the advocacy table. Her granddaughter is a 2022 high school graduate. 

“She has plans to attend college in the fall and perhaps become a school counselor, in honor of the amazing counselors that have helped her along her school journey,” Urvina says. “She’s ready to spread her wings and move on to new adventures.”

Although officially retired, Urvina says she will continue to be a voice for families through Generations United and the Washington State Kinship Caregiver Oversight Committee. More must be done, she says to support kinship families and to fund programs for them:

(Families) need to be honored and respected rather than belittled and dismissed,” she says. “We need huge improvements in mental health resources for the traumatized children and we need additional financial resources for caregivers that are low income. 

Gains made but still a ways to go

“The term kinship is better understood than it was when I started as a kinship navigator, but the actual resources have barely increased during that time,” she adds. “Our state is placing many children with relatives, which is a good thing. However, too many of these relatives are not getting the resources they need to provide safe, stable homes for the children.”

A continuing commitment to families

In preparation for retirement, Urvina says she bought a small cottage not far from the ocean.

“I am fulfilling a lifelong dream of living by the beach,” she says. But, “I will always care deeply about kinship providers and will continue to serve them when the opportunity arises. This is important work. Families matter. It is important to help people get to stability. 

“And,” she adds, “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

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Words of wisdeom families new to kingship care

Grandmother and kinship care activist Lynn Urvina offers this advice for families just beginning the journey of raising a relative’s child:

  • “Be prepared for the hardest, most rewarding years of your life.” 
  • “Be willing to ask for help and connect with other families in similar situations.” 
  • “Support needs to increase, but it does exist. Be open to the programs that are here to help you and the children you are caring for.” 
  • “Prepare to be in it for the long haul.” 
  • “Many kinship children are not able to return to their parents’ care full time and you will need to be the one the children can look to for stability in their chaotic lives.”

To read about a celebrated Seattle kinship care provider and navigator,  check out “Shrounda Selivanoff is a kinship caregiver, a role model and a force for change.”

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is a certified doula, lactation educator and postpartum doula. She’s the owner of Nesting Instincts Perinatal Services in Seattle.