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.
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.