“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.
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Kinship Care Trends Across the Nation

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).

kinshiptrends

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.

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Kinship in Crisis: Kinship Waiver Issues

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.

 
Kinship Waiver Issues
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

The Lost Ones: Reconciling Kinship Care with Undocumented Immigrant Children

Although unintended, deportation often results in the children of undocumented immigrants being placed into the foster care system.

Madison, WI, USA- February 18, 2016 - group of people protesting new Wisconsin immigration laws

The Cost of Deportation

A table describing various reasons and ways undocumented immigrant children enter New Jersey.

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:

The children.
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Kinship Care: The Way It Was vs. The Way It Is

Family being there to support one another during hard times is nothing new. The idea of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren or aunts and uncles providing for nieces and nephews is perhaps as old as time itself. What started as a traditional practice among relatives has now evolved into a leading form of foster care.

Kinship Care: The Way It Was vs. The Way It Is

Conventionally, kinship care has been provided without the inclusion of child welfare agencies. Instead of involving the state in family affairs, adults have taken on the responsibility of taking care of the abused and neglected children within their families. Continue reading

The Cost of Kinship Care: Caring for Relatives Limits Budgets of the Elderly

Thousands of elderly in the United States who have retired from full-time jobs become parents all over again. Without assistance from local child welfare agencies, more and more kinship caregivers, especially senior citizens, don’t have enough money to make ends meet.

the cost of kinship care

Many grandparents are living on fixed incomes like retirement or disability. Since that only scratches the surface of their basic needs, it’s not nearly enough to cover the cost of kinship care.

The Cost of Kinship Care: Nationwide Trend

Kinship care is one of the most common forms of foster care, and grandparents are usually the providers. However, in Idaho, there are about 11,000 grandparents who are raising grandchildren on their own without state help. Unfortunately, about 14 percent of them are also living in poor conditions. To take care of the needs of the kids, a lot of grandparents are overlooking their own necessities. And it’s not just in Idaho – this trend is nationwide. Continue reading