“Grandma Underground”: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy

2013 was a difficult year for the child welfare system in Kentucky as budget estimates failed to cover its growth and several funding cuts were made. Among these cuts was the kinship care subsidy, which helps kinship parents shoulder the additional cost of raising their relatives. Now, kinship parents across the state are coming together through what Kentucky grandparent Norma Hatfield calls the “Grandma Underground.”

Kinship parents receive funds thanks to the Fostering Connections Act.

Across the nation, kinship care has largely been considered the way forward in child welfare. As covered in our previous article, “Kinship Care in the United States: An Overview,” we explained how child welfare in the US is shifting to rely more and more heavily on kinship caregivers. This comes in the wake of studies and other evidence that life with relatives provides fewer disruptions and more positive outcomes for children in care. To ensure fewer disruptions, kinship programs employ what is known as “presumptive eligibility” – that is, the state presumes that a relative caregiver is eligible to be a foster parent and will place the child with them before the standard background checks and inspections are completed, with the understanding the caregiver in question complete such processes as soon as possible. Presumptive eligibility also allows kinship caregivers to receive the kinship care subsidy while being processed.

Previously, relative caregivers were required to go through the entire process of becoming a foster parent while their niece, nephew, grandchild or other relative entered the system and was placed, temporarily, into a traditional foster home. By 2008, the notion of presumptive eligibility was gaining traction as a way to improve kinship care, and as a result the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCSIA, also known as the Fostering Connections Act) was passed. This act provides states with a framework through which they can provide a kinship care subsidy through federal Title IV-B and IV-E funding (normally reserved for traditional foster parents) to kinship caregivers who are in the process of becoming licensed foster parents. In Kentucky, the 2013 elimination of the kinship care program effectively prevented relative caregivers from gaining access to these crucial funds, affecting the lives of the more than 11,000 children in kinship care that existed in the state at that time. Hatfield hopes that the support she’s received from other families across the state will help serve as evidence that the program should be reinstated.

Though their recent efforts to restore kinship care failed during the 2017 Kentucky legislative season when a kinship care restoration bill failed to receive a hearing, Hatfield and other supporters of the program have said they would continue to push forward. Misty Collett of Salyersville, a 23-year-old kinship provider to her four younger siblings, told the Kentucky Courier-Journal that although she receives help through other programs (like food stamps from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), it’s simply not enough without the kinship care subsidy. “We go from payday to payday,” Collett said. “Ninety percent of the time, we’re behind on bills.”

A January 2017 ruling from a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judge that required Kentucky to pay relative caregivers just as they would pay foster parents is currently being appealed by the state and could reach the Supreme Court. This ruling contrasts a Missouri ruling in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in which the state was not considered obligated to pay relative caregivers, and the case has garnered national attention as a result. The lawyer responsible for handling the January 6th Circuit Court suit, Richard Dawahare, believes that this case will be important to relative caregivers across the country: “It would be utterly huge,” he said. “Earthshaking.”

In the meantime, Sen. Dennis Parrett (D – KY), a sponsor of the bill to restore kinship care, is confident that when the bill is proposed during the 2018 legislative session) it will receive the support it needs to pass, in part because the next two-year state budget will be developed at the same time.

In New Jersey, kinship care has been acknowledged as a best-practice in foster care. As far back as 2006, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) worked with the state to update the standards and definitions regarding kinship care in the Manual of Requirements for Resource Family Parents. Six years later in 2012, FAFS helped to author a whitepaper entitled “The Changing Landscape of Foster Care” which reviewed the ways the child welfare system was phasing out old modes of foster care in favor of supporting and growing kinship care programs. FAFS also sent out a survey to kinship parents aimed at identifying their most pressing needs and learned that for kinship care to thrive, flexibility on behalf of the state is required. Since 2000, New Jersey has increased the number of kinship placements, and today 36 percent of all children in New Jersey foster care have been placed with relative caregivers with the support of a kinship care subsidy.

To learn more about the battle for kinship care in Kentucky, click here.

To learn more about kinship care in NJ, click here.

To catch up on all our kinship care news from the past, click here.

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