Grandparents raising grandchildren

Funding slashed for Kentucky’s poor.

By Chelsea Nichols

One of the blessings of being a grandparent is being able to spoil the grandchild. Then there’s the added bonus of sending her home to her parents when she acts up. But what if you can’t send her home? Maybe the mom is abusive or the dad is an alcoholic. Should she go into foster care or do you make your home her new home?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new story. Many Kentucky grandparents deal with this scenario. For years, grandparents and other non-parent relatives could turn to the state for financial help, but that changed as of July 1.

Kinship Care Program
About 63,000 Kentucky children live with a non-parent relative; that’s about six percent of all children in Kentucky. Though six percent sounds small, it’s big compared to the rest of the country.

“The number of case loads increased dramatically and the recession hit at the same time,” said Patricia Tennan, senior policy analyst at Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The Kinship Care Program was introduced in 2000. It served as an alternative to foster care for a child who was neglected, abused or orphaned. About 12,000 children benefit from the program. In an ideal world, parents get better and raise their children. In the case that they don’t get better, the child has a permanent residence with a family member. Research shows children who stay with families and away from foster care do better in life.

It’s an uphill battle from the start. Relatives often have difficulty enrolling children into school or getting access to healthcare because of custody issues.

Relatives receive $300 a month per child to offset costs. However, Tennen said many relatives take in more than one child. Money often goes toward rent, food and school as well as medical expenses. Many of the program’s children have behavioral problems, and they’re living with aging, unemployed relatives.

“We’re looking to see how we can make things easier when it comes to legal issues. We know that other states have passed educational and medical consent laws,” Tennen said. “Instead of having to get the birth parent to sign off or to pursue some other form of custody, they can fill out paperwork that says [the relatives is] the primary care taker of this child. That wouldn’t cost a thing.”

Budget and Blame
When the Kinship Care Programstarted, there was a solid amount of money and a small number of families enrolled. In about a decade, it became the opposite. Funding came in from additional resources, but later was not reauthorized. And let’s not forget the recession. It left the program vulnerable.

As of July 1, no new families can enroll. Those currently in the program cannot earn more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $19,000 for two grandparents and a grandchild. For those who don’t make the cut, Tennen reminds them that they may still be eligible for Medicaid, food stamps and the TANF child-only fund.

Kentucky Youth Advocates has been hard at work since finding out about the cuts. In August, families and supporters rallied in Frankfort. Supporters of the Kinship Care Program, along with the Child Care Assistance Program, made their pleas and shared their stories.

Where Grandparents Find Support
“Kentucky’s practice has been to divert kids into relative placement,” Tennen said. “Then, [the relatives] have to get permanent custody, and they get financial help. Kentucky doesn’t really offer much else. I think that’s something else we should think about in addition to funding.”

In a small way, Jewish Family and Career Services has filled that void.

A Louisville couple—who preferred not to be named—took in their three grandchildren, but it wasn’t without a fight. For a year they battled the system to get permanent custody. For about three years, they turned to JFCS for support and joined Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

Families in the support group share stories, many involving jail, drugs and not enough money to raise the children. The group serves as a space to vent and to find resources. Thanks to this support group, the couple learned about the Kinship Care Program as well as Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program and Passport Health Plan.

The grandmother said Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is a great place for grandparents who don’t know where to turn. Jo Ann Kalb, the facilitator of the group, agreed.

“The program is a success in that it connects grandparents to existing resources and support even though the supports are limited and in some cases have been cut or are phasing out,” she said. “The services offered under this grant have been a wonderful asset and a mechanism to connect grandparents with other grandparents in this situation, especially those new grandparents raising grandchildren or those in crisis.”

The grant Kalb referred to is funding from Kentucky Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA). With that money JFCS can provide training for facilitators as well as support and counseling services for the community. JFCS doesn’t just help those in Jefferson County. Kalb said she receives call from grandparents outside Kentucky for help. Many need help finding resources, but just as many need a listening ear.

Securing Funding
Kalb said, “While the future looks uncertain as to whether state supports will be reinstated and current grants will continue, grandparents who raise their grandchildren are true heroes who sacrifice so much to provide safe, loving homes to these kids who often have been exposed to abuse or traumatic situations.”

Tennan agreed.

“We need to make sure that we connect these kinship families with other support in their communities,” she said. “But you can’t ignore the financial need; that’s a huge problem.

“We absolutely need to restore funding for kinship care in 2014.”