10 BEST considerations for kinship care

by Jordan Green

Grandparents raising children

For the past two decades, the number of grandparents and other extended family members raising children has been rising dramatically. I don’t know whether it has to do with deteriorating financial stability or a decline in personal responsibility on the part of those of us who are of age to procreate — I’d like to think it’s the former — but increasingly often, it’s grandparents who are taking on the awesome task of feeding, clothing and rearing children.

Why they step into the gap

In Forsyth and Guilford counties thousands of grandparents are estimated to be responsible for grandchildren under 18 years old, according to the most recent Census numbers. In many cases, biological parents hand children off to grandparents because of substance abuse and addiction. Other times, the decision has to do with mental illness, incarceration, economic hardship, divorce and domestic violence.

Benefits of being raised by kin

The NC Division of Social Services and the courts agree that when children cannot be guaranteed safety in the homes of their biological parents, the best alternative is often with an extended family member. It’s easy to understand why: The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports, “Many children thrive in kinship care. Children living with relatives maintain connections to their family members, traditions and identity. In many cases, kinship caregiving enables sibling groups to remain intact.”

Social cost savings

The same report, published in 2005, posited, “Research indicates that kinship caregiving saves taxpayers billions over other options. Conservative estimates suggest that if even half of the 2 million children being raised by relatives without parents in the home were to enter the foster care system, it would cost taxpayers $6.5 billion a year. These numbers would completely overwhelm the system.”

An amazing story

It would be hard to think of someone with a bigger heart and resolve more steely than Sara Harper. Eight years ago, she and her husband fetched two great-great nieces and a great-great nephew from their neglectful and addicted mother. Already raising two foster children, Harper lost her car, lost her health insurance, lost her credit and stood in line at the Salvation Army to get toys for Christmas. She went to the Guilford County Department of Social Service for assistance, and was told that her only option was to give them up to foster care. Family doesn’t do that to family.

‘Where is the justice…?’

“When she picked up her great-great nieces and nephew from Pennsylvania, the North Carolina WorkFirst program offered her $272 for the care of all those children,” recounted Mark Testa, a professor of social work at UNC-Chapel Hill during a fundraising banquet in High Point for KinGap Services of North Carolina on Nov. 5. “If those same three children were placed into an unrelated foster home, the foster parents could qualify for between $1,350 and $2,000 for looking after those same three babies. $272 for a relative versus almost $2,000 for a foster parent, where is the justice in such a large difference?”

Introducing KinGap Services

KinGap Services, designed as a kinship navigator program to serve the state of North Carolina and founded by Sara Harper, will open its office in space furnished by High Point University early next year. Among its functions will be to help grandparents and other relatives raising children locate services and benefits.

Federal money on the table

Attention NC Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler: Please apply ASAP to the US Administration for Children and Families for child welfare funds to establish a kinship guardianship assistance program in North Carolina. The money has been sitting on the table since President Bush signed the Fostering Connections Act in 2008.

Some resources

In the meantime, Senior Resources of Guilford’s “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” program provides a free monthly luncheon with free childcare and transportation so that care providers can avail themselves of informative presentations and peer support (336.373.4816). The Grandparenting Program at Winston-Salem State University provides support services to relative caregivers residing in Forsyth County who are raising one or more children 17 years of age or younger (336.725.8167).

‘Injustice anywhere…’

“I can’t think of anything more unjust than to leave our children and our aging alone and struggling,” said author and entrepreneur Sondra Wright. “Now, I’m not a parent. The likelihood that I would end up raising my grandchildren is not likely. But because I know that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, this is a concern for me. Because if we leave our children alone and destitute and without, then one day when we’re old and these are the adults now that we have to depend on, all they’ll know is to give what they got.”

Please consider making a donation to KinGap Services of North Carolina. Checks can be sent to 614 E. Hamilton Ave., High Point, NC 27262. For more information, call 336.289.4043.