BY JAIA PETERSON LENT
Twenty-two years ago, a recent graduate with the Bachelors of Social Work, I was handed one of my first Child Protective Services cases as a full fledged social worker. It was for a new born baby girl, Brittney[i], whose parents had substance use issues, serious mental health problems and series of other issues that make it clear they could not safely care for the little girl. I went to work looking for an appropriate relative to help care for baby Brittney. After a day of family finding detective work, I found a wonderful relative eager to care for her. The family just asked if they would get the support they need to meet Brittney’s needs. Knowing what the system provides to foster parents, I promised them they would.
“Kinship care families” or “GrandFamilies” are terms used to describe grandparents or other relatives raising their grandchildren or other kin when their parents are unable to do so. More than 7.4 million children live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. Of those 7.4 million children, more than 2.5 million children are living in households without any parents present. These relative caregivers are willing to care for the children, but may need financial or other help to appropriately meet the children’s needs –
The weeks and months that followed were eye-opening. The promised support I thought I could secure the family didn’t come through. Because they were Brittney’s relatives, I had to jump through hoops to get them to services and benefits that would have readily been available to unrelated foster parents. While the incredible family found a way to patch together what was helpful to provide for Brittney’s needs, I felt like I and the system had failed them.
I soon learned that Brittney’s story was not unique. Because of the way that the federal government funds child welfare, relatives often have poor if any access to supports and services that that traditional foster families get even though the needs of the children are the same.
In February, a long awaited new law – The Family First Prevention Services Act was enacted. This law takes major steps towards providing getting more support and services to families like Brittney’s. The Family First Act helps grandfamilies in three major ways:
- Prevention services to families with children at risk of foster Care: Provides funds for states who chose to offer certain supportive services to eligible children, birth parents, and relatives caregivers of children at imminent risk of coming into foster care to help keep children out of foster care and safely with family members. (Begins 10/1/2019)
- Licensing relatives as foster parents: Requires states to examine ways to improve their licensing standards and process for relatives who want to become licensed foster parents for the related children in their care. (By 4/1/2019)
- Kinship navigator programs: Offer funds for states who choose to establish or maintain proven kinship navigator programs, which provide information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the critical benefits and services. (Begins 10/1/2018)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives