One of the key components of our child welfare system are kinship providers who are willing to take in abused and neglected children so they can keep a bond with someone familiar with them. Just as I recently praised the foster parents and foster care providers who help us care for several thousand children a year, I can tell you we would not be successful if we didn’t have broad support from kinship providers.
Kinship Care refers to a temporary or permanent arrangement where a relative or someone else close to a child takes over the full-time care and protection of the child whose parent/caregiver is unable or unwilling to provide for their care and safety. Just as we expect foster parents to love, care for and treat the children in their home as their own, we expect the same from kin families.
Kinship care is a fairly common form of care for HCJFS. Last year, more than 40 percent of the children who came into our custody were placed in a kinship placement at some time during the year. Many of those placements were with grandparents.
We consider care by grandparents or other relatives and friends to be a desirable option for abused and neglected children who can no longer live with their parents. Staying with a relative allows the children to maintain their sense of belonging, culture and traditions.
Although the county offers assistance to kin who take in children, I strongly believe that we as a nation — the federal government, state governments and local governments – need to work together to find ways to support kinship providers to the same level we support foster parents. As the children’s parents struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, economic hardship, divorce, domestic violence, and other challenges, these caregivers provide a vital safety net to children who have experienced so much trauma.
One form of financial assistance is the Kinship Permanency Incentive Program. If eligible for the program, the family will receive an initial payment of $525. The family can then reapply every six months for a payment of $300 for up to seven more payments (four years), for a total of $2,625. So families can get the initial $525 plus $2,100 over four years.
To be eligible for the program:
- The court must have awarded legal custody or guardianship of the child on or after July 1, 2005 to the kinship caregiver, based on the best interest of the child.
- The public children services agency must have completed the Relative or Non-Relative Substitute Placement Approval Process, inclusive of a criminal background check, as well as completion of an application form.
- The gross income of the caregiver’s family, including the child, may not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
There are other forms of assistance available. Depending on family income, a kinship provider may be eligible for food assistance and child care assistance. Both are available to those earning less than 130% of the poverty level (about $32,000 for a family of four.)
The kinship provider will also be eligible for the Ohio Works First program and Medicaid. In rare instances, a child is eligible for Supplemental Security Income due to a disability or for social security benefits due to the death or disability a parent.
Locally, we will assist with child care if a person is not eligible for the federal program. Annually, we spend about $300,000 funding child care in kinship situations. We recognize that child care could be vitally important to maintaining a kinship placement.
We also provide vouchers to help offset the cost of care (ie. groceries, beds, clothing, etc.) The annual JFS budget for vouchers to kin and other families is about $900,000.
Kinship care is always going to be our preferred choice of care if a child cannot be safely reunited with parents. But there are reasons why we might not place a child in a kin placement:
- No family members are available
- Family members are unwilling or unable to care for the child and cannot meet his or her needs
- Family members, or someone living in their household, cannot pass a criminal background check or a child welfare history check
- We have assessed the family member’s willingness and ability to protect the child and decided placement with the kin is not a good option.
- The family member has unrealistic expectations of the parent’s capacity to parent or the child’s behavior and development.
Finally, it is important to note JFS does not make the decision on where to place a child in a vacuum. The prosecutor’s office, a guardian ad litem for the child and others would assist in the decision by providing reports and information to the magistrate or judge. Ultimately, the county’s Juvenile Court would make the decision based on its determination of the child’s best interests.
Still, in almost half of the occurrences where a child comes into custody, we are able to find a suitable kinship placement. For that, I am grateful.