Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Guardianship Assistance Programs

A child (or two or three) comes in a moment of urgency and is temporarily placed in care of a relative. The public social services agency knows the grandparent or aunt or other relative will be burdened with a number of extra expenses and so a system is set up to help with the new costs to the family: A child-only grant, generally a small stipend depending on the State plus a Medicaid card for the children.
The relative cooperates with the public system until the child is reunited with the parent(s) or . . .The relative may be offered Kinship Foster Care, which, again, varies by State. Foster Care provides more funds per child, but the family usually must comply with all Foster Care policies including training, housing, and specific rules that may constrict a family’s movement. In some states kinship foster care is really no different than non-kin foster care in that the family may be asked to take other non-related children in crisis. The design of Foster Care includes a Permanency Plan. Children need permanency in their home life. And States do not want children languishing in Foster Care . . . even if they are in a Kinship home.The Permanency plan is based on a reasonable time frame (one year) from the placement. Of course this cannot happen in many cases. Agency Social Services workers are already overburdened with coordinating systems to mend the family. They are very aware of the benefit that kinship care provides children, and they are equally aware of the significant costs to kin families. But Social Services Child welfare departments are under pressure to secure the children in permanent homes, which may mean encouraging Adoption.
The dynamics to families of adopting their relatives are often not an acceptable choice. The problem then is children in the safety of their kinship care providers and some kind of assistance to those providers. Realistically, Kinship care providers whether temporary placement or Kinship Foster Care, are saving the States a great deal of money that might have been used for very expensive residential care. There are no studies that I know of that can account for the savings to society when the safe kinship care launches healthy citizens.
Consequently, we want Kinship Care to thrive and to make that happen we want kinship care providers to receive some assistance in the costly care. Thirty-five states have developed a Guardianship Assistance (sometimes called a subsidy) for kinship care providers. Two or three states have abandoned the assistance program, while others are searching ways to establish an appropriate financial supplement to the kin families.
Generations United ( ) made a significant study of States that have an assistance program for kinship care providers. The variation of plans is surprising. Illinois has a well thought out model kinship assistance program. Michigan is currently in committee with two very important bills: MI Senate (S. 661) and MI House of Representatives (H.R. 2188).
The key to the success of appropriate support for Kinship families is the awareness public officials have of the issues involved. Yikes – does that mean that grandfamilies have to not only provide for their whole new family, they have to become political activists as well? Um. Yep.

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