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.”
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.
Widely regarded by child welfare professionals as the best placement option for foster children, kinship care has been on the rise in the United States. Collectively, child welfare agencies have been pushing for more kinship placements as reports show that outcomes improve for children placed into the care of relatives. These kinship care trends are signs that our child welfare system is working. From a legislative standpoint, however, the major breakthrough in kinship care came in the form of the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCSIA, also known as the Fostering Connections Act).
Laying the Groundwork for Kinship Care Trends
Passed in 2008, this bill paved the way for kinship care throughout the nation. Although “kinship care” as a concept was introduced to the US child welfare system as early as 1978 (way it was vs way it is link), it wasn’t until 1990s that it was regulated and supported by federal funds, becoming endorsed by the federal government as a specific program within foster care. At that time, more than 75% of the children in kinship care were in private or unlicensed homes.
On September 6th, 2016, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced that the state was placing a record number of children in care with relatives. This form of foster care, in which children are placed with direct relatives or close family friends and often relies on a special kinship waiver, is known as kinship care.
Of kinship care, Governor Malloy said:
“We know that the trauma children experience from being removed from their home is significantly diminished if the child lives with someone they know and love – a family member or another person with an established connection. We are building a system for the future and this is another milestone in that effort.”
This system for the future is already making great progress. At the time of his announcement, Governor Malloy boasted that 42% of all placements in the state were kinship placements, the highest level the state ever achieved and close to double the amount of such placements compared to five years ago. In a world where kinship is rapidly becoming the new gold standard for child welfare, these numbers represent tremendous progress in helping minimize the trauma associated with entering the foster care system. Continue reading
Although unintended, deportation often results in the children of undocumented immigrants being placed into the foster care system.
The Cost of Deportation
This table shows a snapshot of some ways children may enter the country. (New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect Conference, 2013)
In the United States in 2011, 5,100 children in the foster care system were U.S. citizens born to deported undocumented immigrant parents. From 2010 to 2012, 204,810 deportees were parents of U.S.-born children. According to a report by the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence, “For every two immigrants taken into custody, one child is left behind.” Quoting the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, Lianne Pietro states:
…those who elect to enter our territory by stealth and in violation of our law should be prepared to bear the consequences, including, but not limited to, deportation. But the children of those illegal entrants are not comparably situated. Their “parents have the ability to conform their conduct to societal norms,” and presumably the ability to remove themselves from the State’s jurisdiction; but the children who are plaintiffs in these cases “can affect neither their parents’ conduct nor their own status.”
Especially in border states, the topic of illegal immigration spurs on hours of rhetoric and in-fighting, whether on the floor of the legislature or at home. While our politicians battle it out, however, something is forgotten:
Grandmothers’ roles are changing from beloved ancestors to authority figures with the recent rise in kinship care among Native American families.
For too many Native Americans, life’s prospects are grim. In 2014, The Washington Post reported that young Native American adults are twice as likely to die before they turn 24 than young adults of other ethnicities. Just as alarming, they also reported that Native American women are more likely to be assaulted and/or sexually abused than other women, and young Native Americans are three times as likely to commit suicide than their counterparts of other races. These devastating statistics can often be traced back to substance abuse.
Imagine you’re a grandmother or grandfather and your daughter has lived on her own for a long time now. Maybe you have a good relationship with her, maybe you don’t, but she ends up in trouble – a drug addiction, a bad accident or some other tragedy – and can no longer care for your grandson. You haven’t been given time to plan or prepare, but suddenly there’s a caseworker on your doorstep with your grandson in tow asking you to take him in. He’s’ your grandchild, so of course you’re willing, but are you actually able? Do you have the legal relationship that would allow you to manage your grandson’s educational enrollment or immunizations or health care decisions? Did you settle down into a smaller home after your grandson’s parent moved away? Do you earn enough money to support the extra mouth to feed?
These are the questions facing the When thinking of foster care, it’s easy to boil the child welfare system down to two basic steps: First, a child, for whatever reason, cannot be cared for by his parents, and second, the government places that child with a new family. The truth is, however, that foster care is much more like an evolving organism than a simple series of processes. Every year, as data comes back and the various responsible agencies assess their abilities and achievements, the child welfare system is being modified and refined to help find the best possible outcomes for those children who enter it. As a result, child welfare professionals have been listening to kinship caregivers all over the country and are starting to help grandparents and kinship caregivers answer those frustrating yet supremely important questions.