For generations grandparents in Hawai‘i have helped raise their grandchildren while the parents worked the farms or harvested the crops. While things changed in modern Hawai‘i, the tradition continued as busy parents headed off to work, grandparents often took the grandchildren to school or after school activities. And, by the late ’90s, many grandparents found themselves caring for their grandchildren on a full time, 24/7 basis. Yet, a myriad of Hawai‘i laws prevented them from fully caring for their grandkids. For example, grandparents couldn’t enroll the children in school or take them to the doctor. What happened to ‘‘ohana” and “hānai”? These cultural traditions of family caring for other family members, especially the keiki, were no longer recognized in our very own Hawai‘i.

In response, the Windward O‘ahu Family and Community Education Council (WOFCE) appointed a small, yet passionate, committee called Nā Tūtū. Its mission is to seek necessary legislation, which will allow grandparents and care-givers over the age of 18, to provide a safe, loving and secure home for the children in their care.

At the time Nā Tūtū was established, if parents were unavailable, the child was deemed a ward of the state and farmed out to a foster home. In order for grandparents, or other relatives, to be caretakers they had to be legal guardians.

Nā Tūtū set out to change the laws. It researched other states’ “consent” laws, some of which allowed grandparents to enroll their grandchildren in school and allowed medical services for the minors, and selected the legislation that it felt best suited Hawai‘i.

On Na¯ Tu¯tu¯’s behalf, the Human Resources Committee Chairs of both the Senate and House introduced education and medical consent laws into the legislature. To raise awareness, Nā Tūtū
made Tūtū/Keiki dolls and distributed them to all legislators; gathered more than 1,000 signatures throughout the state; followed by support letters, and after three years of testifying before  committees of both Houses. The legislation for Consent for Education became law in 2003, followed by the Consent for Medical Services in 2005. By law, every school in the state must have the Consent for Education affidavit form available to all grandparents or relatives who are the primary caregivers of a minor child.

Later, the Nā Tūtū Coalition supported legislation that required the state to place a minor child with a grandparent or relative before permanent placement in a foster home. The Coalition was also instrumental in changing the policy of public housing for senior citizens facing eviction because they had suddenly found themselves caring for grandchildren in crisis. Eviction will no longer be an intimidation.

Nā Tūtū is comprised of grandparents, relatives, organizations and agencies concerned with issues facing the caregiving of minor children. Nā Tūtū is currently a state project of the Family and Community Education, University of Hawai‘i, Cooperative Extension Services. The Coalition is active in informing the general public of the concerns and activities for grandparents raising grandchildren.

For more information and to get involved, call (808) 239-8908 n