Call-in number: Full Child Welfare Council meeting (Wednesday, March 12) 9:30-12:30: 1 (866) 629-7499; Enter Passcode: 8479522#. Kinship care will be discussed at 9:45.
March 10, 2014: KINSHIP CARE is at the top of the agenda,literally, for tomorrow's meeting of the Child Welfare Council, an 8-year-old advisory body responsible for improving the collaboration and processes of the multiple agencies and the courts that serve the children in the state's child welfare system.
Tomorrow's quarterly meeting (location of the meetings move around the state) will convene at 9:30 at the LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services (425 Shatto Place). All CWC meetings are, by law, open to the public both physically and over the phone.
“[Kinship care is] a crisis situation. We’re all raising children that suffered early childhood trauma, abuse, abandonment.” -- Colleen Sinclair. full-time caregiver grandmother and founder of 7-year-old Kincares, a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 in Santa Barbara County that provides educational services and programs to "meet the urgent and ongoing needs of grandfamilies and relative caregivers...", as quoted by reporter Jennifer Best in today's Santa Ynez Valley News.
Statistical data on the scope and varying nature of kinship care in the state is sketchy and outdated. (The DSS website, for example, lists contact information on its Kinship Support Services Program (KSSP) with the note, that these are programs "that were providing services as of November 2004")!
"Kin" is described by the state Dept. of Social Services as "...an adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption, or affinity within the fifth degree of kinship, including stepparents, stepsiblings, and all relatives whose status is proceeded by the words "great," "great-great," or "grand," or the spouse of any of these persons, even if the marriage was terminated by death or dissolution. However, only the following relatives shall be given preferential consideration for the [foster] placement of the child: an adult who is a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling."
Colleen Sinclair told reporter Best that in California, nearly 270,000 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren’s everyday care (there are 2,800 such families in Santa Barbara County, where Sinclair's organization is based). Still more aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends provide the care parents once did. Many of them operate outside the foster care system, receive no social services and, Sinclair says, often live in fear.
“I’ve got grandparents who are hiding out with their grandchildren because they’re afraid that if they come out of the woodwork, because of their age and fragility, that their grandchildren will be taken away from them. It’s a frightened population,” Sinclair said. She added that while some grandparents do raise their children within the foster care system, most do not.
"We find out what [caregivers'] needs are and go after services. We’re a lot about collaborating with existing services, "Sinclair says. Kincares works closely with the Jewish Community Center in Santa Barbara, American Charities Foundation in Santa Ynez and Hancock College’s Foster and Kinship Care Education Program.
“Kinship parents don’t generally like to be associated with the foster system. They feel like it doesn’t apply or it stigmatizes them, but the parenting classes we provide address the needs of any families in which children have been removed from their parents’ homes,” said Joe Pollon, director of Hancock's program...
Sinclair says she was one of the fortunate grandparents who received support when she worked through the Arizona system to take guardianship of her grandchild. There, Sinclair was required to become a foster parent to take over her grandchild's care and was provided related social services including access to parenting training and counseling. She was assigned a court advocate, was provided a grandparent mentor and received other assistance that helped smooth the transition.
“The system here is entirely different. Once we crossed the California border, I lost that foster caregiver status and all the services that come with it,” Sinclair says. “We get no assistance, even though children captured by foster care agencies have stipends, clothing allowance, Court Appointed Special Advocates. They get all these community-based services because they’re in the system. Eighty percent of our group have guardianship, so they have no services,” Sinclair said.
Kinship caregivers who are "in the system" do get stipends from the state -- in the foster system, about $425 to $597 per month, depending on the age of the child. A relative who is caring for a child who is not eligible for federal foster care receives a welfare payment for the child, ...currently is at a maximum of $387 per month per child...The discrepancy between kin- and non-kin foster payments is another baffling inequity for children: Despite rhetoric to "keep families together," licensed foster parents who are not kin receive varying amounts, but $800/month per child is about average in large urban counties.
Speaking of the financial stresses of grandfamilies (often headed by single women), Sinclair says, “We’re on fixed incomes. It’s hard to save up. We’re older, so we’ve found we can’t work full-time plus take care of a child with behavioral and emotional issues. It’s hard enough getting a job when you’re older, let alone getting a job when you’re an older mother. None of us say we have children when we’re looking for work. We’re afraid the minute we say we have children, it’ll be two strikes. It’s a little crazy."
Pollon added that many of the caregiving grandparents, like Sinclair, are doing the job as single grandparents. “They’re not only worried about their own health and retirement; they don’t have a partner to share it with. It is hard. They struggle,” he said.
Frightened grandparents coupled with children who feel stigmatized by their home situation make for rocky beginnings.
“If you’re a grandparent taking care of grandchildren, there’s a lot of guilt. ‘What did I do wrong with my kid that they can’t take care of their own?’ ...These are grandparents who are raising grandkids while also dealing with their own children’s drug problems, alcohol problems, emotional issues, so it can get very messy...," Pollon said.
Above, caregiver grandmother Karen Hunter (yes, she's the grandmother). Hunter is the director of development of Kincares; here, with her grandson, Henry. Kincares currently has a fund-raising effort on crowdfunder IndieGogo.