Friday, October 15, 2010

Parents in Prison, Children in Kinship Care

What comes to your mind when you hear the topic – Incarcerated Parents? We received thought provoking news from Illinois Kinship Care Resources director, Barb Schwartz regarding civic action from the Community Renewal Society in Illinois .
Through a partnership with Civic Action Network, the annual membership gathering focused on change for the families of incarcerated parents. Choosing key players to attend the gathering including the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) director Gladys Taylor, the Community Renewal Society (CRS) was able to educate and draw action for the benefit of children caught in the web of separation from their parents. Here’s a piece of that report:

“After hearing moving testimony from grandmothers raising their grandchildren due to parental incarceration and church leaders working for change for the 90,000 children in Illinois with an incarcerated parent, Director Taylor committed that IDOC would:
*Maintain no limit on the number of children who can visit a parent at one time
*Ensure that new lockdown procedures accomodate the needs of children who travel long distances to see their parents
*Expand video visitation to all IDOC facilities and allow CRS to review the proposals for companies providing these services to ensure that they meet the needs of families
*Transform visitation spaces into family friendly environments
*Move toward contact visits so children can touch and hug their parents
*Create family programming prior to parental re-entry
*Meet quarterly with CRS and other family advocates to continue to improve services for families. “

Yes, you read that correctly, 90,000 children in Illinois live without one or both parents because of incarceration. How many in your state? What is the impact on the children and the caregivers? Facts stir the conscience - In 2002, for instance, 76% of people in state prisons were convicted of non‐violent crimes, including 31% for drug offenses, and 29% for property offenses. The topic certainly warrants discussion and hopefully a queue from the Community Renewal Society and the Illinois Department of Corrections to make change where we can.
Along with this announcement from Barb Schwartz came three valuable documents especially for those working to understand this significant problem for families whether in kinship care or not.

Browse through the fact sheet from the National Resource Center for Children and Families of the Incarcerated at Family and Corrections Network; to get a real feel for the extent of the issue.

An article from Social Work Policy is loaded with resources especially for social researchers

For copies of fact sheets or articles regarding the Community Renewal Society’s excellent results on behalf of incarcerated families contact Barb Schwartz of Illinois Kinship Care,
Thanks to all involved for the awareness and information on this critical issue.

In peace,


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Strong Families Safe Children not for Kinship Care

Some Bad News: Strong Families Safe Children money in Michigan will be transferred from communities who depended on the funds for their Kinship Care programs and moved to DHS children’s services.

Consider this about Michigan’s kinship children:
About 8,000 children are in Relative Foster Care.
Yet 183,000 children are in non-parent relative care, 75% of those are living with grandparents, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
That means that 4% of the children living with relatives are being served by Relative Foster Care through DHS, while 96% of children living with relatives are not receiving the extent of services DHS can offer. Maybe you should read that again. It is an important fact for how money is spent on kinship care.

To deal with the disproportionate gap in kinship services, many communities turned to the collaboration efforts of their human services. Strong Families Safe Children, administered by DHS, included a specific criteria to establish kinship care programs. Local administration of the money has been a key to the success of assisting all kinship families through the navigation process of kinship care.

On May 30, 2010, the decision from DHS was made by someone in the tower to cut those funds to community collaboratives and transfer them to DHS foster care – the 4% of relative care. Those communities depending on the core funding from Strong Families Safe Children for all kinship families are now much more likely to see the struggling kinship programs crumble.

Why is kinship care so pushed aside from the mainstream of social programs?
Is it lack of research showing need for services that also include the 96% of kinship families not involved with DHS?
Is it the complicated spread of needs over a wide cross section of our society – legal, education, counseling, health, financial, general navigation through these difficult mine fields?
Is it a lack of advocates in the field to pursue the necessary support? Or a weariness of advocates? In 2007 a strong core of Michigan kinship family advocates worked hard with the legislature to actually pass the Guardianship Assistance bill only to see the proposed funds encumbered by the heavily researched, well-positioned DHS programs (serving 4% of the kinship children).

This is not to say that Relative Foster Care with its wonderful family and children supports should not receive the necessary funds to strengthen the children, but rather to include all kinship families with strong navigational supports for children and caregivers. One frustrated DHS worker lamented as I researched the loss of Strong Families Safe Children funding for community kinship programs, “Strengthening all kinship care families is a vital course of Prevention – assuring that the families are strong and children more likely to find success in school and society.”
This is a very disturbing situation.
Concerned in Michigan

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Free Course for Kinship Care Service Providers

On Wednesday, June 9, I will be teaching a 3-hour course for Michigan State University School of Social Work Continuing Education program. The course is designed to support those in agencies who work with kinship families. The best part is the course is free due to community support AND offers 3 hours Continuing Education Contact Hours credit for participants. But, registration time is critical: June 1! Contact for information and registration: MSU School of Social Work CE at 517-353 3060.

Three goals of the course are:
1. To recognize the difficulties kinship families face.
2. Develop a Navigation Plan and follow-through for families.
3. Strengthen community support for kinship care providers.

I am looking forward to teaching this class again (we had 29 participants in the 2009 course). The subject is a crossover of many community services making us all partners in the support of the children and their caregivers. I will be using A Kinship Guide to Rescuing Children and providing a copy for each participant. Not bad for a free continuing education course. I hope to see folks in the class who follow this blog as well as those in Michigan and tri-state services. Remember June 1 deadline for the June 9 class.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren - Go Have Fun!

"Don't Forget to Have Fun" is a popular chapter in the book, A Kinship Guide to Rescuing Children for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children (p. 139 to 145). The ideas in the chapter are based on a family study a few years ago. Instead of looking at what's wrong with families struggling with trouble, the study found a few common factors showing up in successful families (families that stick together, raise children that overcome adversity and thrive into adulthood). Some of the factors they found are:

1. Affirmation - family members affirmed each other's presence regularly with a smile or small gestures and giving willing general personal support.

2. Clear expectations - adults in the family identified reasonable expectations for maintaining a supportive household from regular chores to expected conduct outside the home.

3. A process for solving problems - the families worked together to solve problems either through family meetings or regular respectful discussions.

4. Did interesting things together - the families traveled, took classes, talked and generally developed ways to enjoy each other.

5. Tell family stories - keeping history alive even when some of the stories were sad.

6. Seek help - when there was trouble these families reached out to the community of services to get the help they needed.

The chapter goes on to explain some of these points while offering a list of fun things families can do together. Here's one idea:
"If you don't know what adventures are around you, try this: make a 60 mile circle on a map within your home area as the center. All the little towns or neighborhoods in that circle have some great places to visit or stories to tell - zoos, museums, sporting events, nature centers, beaches, parks, specialty shopping including antique stores for collectibles, used book stores, garden shops , libraries, local museums." Now go. Have fun. Life really is good.
Love, Tita

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Grandparents, relatives, kinship? Who Cares?

Six million children care. We hear it all the time - a meth lab blows, parents arrested, three children go to grandparents. But we don't hear what happens then.
Grandparents and other relatives are the forgotten population and in some cases are treated as if they are in the way of some greater activity of our social/legal concerns. What does happen when the relatives take children after a family difficulty? First there is scrambling for comfort in the house - sleeping, bathroom, merging sometimes conflicting family habits. That's the easy part. Then there is the outside world.
If the relative has no legal documentation of care - guardianship especially - they face a litany of daily rejection at the doctor's office, counselors, social services agencies, even the good guys need to have proof that these caregivers have the permission of the parents or the courts to make decisions for the children. Getting guardianship has its own process, like stumbling through an unknown forest, the challenges begin. All nearly four million kinship caregivers in our country know the task of raising related children in today's world is filled with seemingly absurd barriers.
For instance, a teacher in the midwest has agreed happily to take her granddaughter because the mother is unable to raise the child. The parent and the grandmother obtain the guardianship in Family Court. The teacher/grandmother, who has heard horror stories from the kinship caregivers of her students, begins smoothing the path for the care of her own grandchild. She never anticipated the next challenge - health insurance.
The child had chronic asthma issues that required medical attention. The teacher assumed with guardianship for a child living in her home, that she would be covered by her health insurance company. She was denied because the child was not hers by birth or adoption. So she went to the social services agency to file under the "Child only" funds which provided for a Medicaid card for the child. With a sigh of relief, the grandmother, at least had some protection for her little one. She could not take the child to her own doctor, however, who did not accept Medicaid, but had to find another physician in another part of town.
And so the saga began - registering for school, seeking counseling for an emotional ghost haunting the child, and facing her own emotional challenges - loss of friends, loss of personal time, a hidden embarrassment about why her own daughter could not raise the little girl herself.
This was a simple scenario. Some of the cases become so complicated through our social structure rules that resolution becomes impossible. Meanwhile the children grow, trying hard to become a part of the society, feeling guilty for the trouble they perceive they have caused.
Six million children, folks.
Action plan:
This must not be a forgotten issue. As a national community we must incorporate the care issues faced by kinship families into our national agenda. We need knowledgeable kinship resources available in every community and from their experiences we need to document the necessary changes that will strengthen the support of kinship children and their loving caregivers. We can begin by establishing Kinship Navigator programs in every state. State Kinship Navigators would first be charged with establishing regional and local resource centers and through this network no one will be forgotten.
Concerned, Tita

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


SCHIP is the acronym for States Child Health Insurance Program. This valuable federal program is designed to fill the gap in health care coverage for children whose family income is over the eligibility for Medicaid, but too little to afford costly private health insurance. Each State is responsible for the program design and outreach to eligible families. Sadly, with a desperate economy recently you can imagine the odd circumstance of more families needing the insurance while strapped states are not able to inform the public adequately. Consequently, many eligible children and their families have no idea such a help is available to them at a very reasonable cost.

In Michigan, for instance, the SCHIP funds are appropriately called MIChild. For $10 a month per family the children can receive health and dental care including shots and well-baby care, prescription drugs, and dental exams. The coverage is available through a variety of health plans administered by the state.

Here’s the tricky part, but well worth the inconvenience. Though the MIChild website claims the form can be filled out on line, the reality is that families have to go to their local DHS to determine eligibility, that is, income too high for Medicaid. Either program, Medicaid or MIChild are imperative for strengthening children’s health support. Most states participate in the SCHIP funding.

As the health debate continues to blather on in Congress, don’t miss out on what already exists for the children. Check with your local Department of Human Services for the process and necessary papers needed. Good health is the foundation of for a good future.

And take your vitamins.