Opioid overdoses have been on the rise since the late 1990’s, becoming the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. There were over 47,000 opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2017 from heroin, synthetic fentanyl and opioid prescription pain relievers, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of children who have suffered the loss of their parents and homes because of death, incarceration, and child abuse and neglect, as a result of this epidemic.
When parents cannot parent and a child welfare agency removes a child from the home, sometimes it’s best for a child to be placed in the care of a relative. Kinship care, as it is commonly called, is a way that our community can step up and protect our youth. It is a foster care program that places children, when necessary, with a relative caregiver (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, adult siblings and even family friends) instead of with nonrelative foster parents (strangers). Research proves the model where children who live with relatives after being removed from their parents often have better outcomes than children who enter foster care with strangers, due to kinship caregivers’ level of the determination and unconditional love.
The Center for Disease Control published a 2014 study (Radel & Bramlett) showing that children in non-parental care were more likely to have experienced adverse family experiences. “Compared with children living with two biological parents, children in non-parental care were about 1.5 times as likely to be living in a household in which it was often difficult to afford basics, five times as likely to have ever lived with a mentally ill caregiver or parent, six times as likely to have witnessed neighborhood violence, fifteen times as likely to have witnessed caregiver or parent violence, eleven times as likely to have lived with a caregiver or parent with an alcohol or drug problem, and seventeen times as likely to have experienced caregiver or parent incarceration.”
As a kin placement may be most ideal for the child, from both an emotional and cultural stabilizing position, it can be a real challenge and abrupt change to a kin caregiver’s routine and lifestyle. In addition, they are taking on children who are traumatized from abuse, neglect and loss. Many are not in a financial position to take on the kin children. Most have no idea how to navigate through the process of getting State support services and financial aid. This is where New York State Kinship Navigators can step in and help kinship caregivers answer some of the immediate and overwhelming questions related to navigating the school system, addressing mental health issues, filing for legal paperwork, seeking out social and support networks, etc.
“The first question I typically hear from a family member faced with the sudden decision to assume care of kin is, ‘what are my financial and legal options as a caregiver,’” said Rae Glaser, Co-Director of New York State Kinship Navigator. “The key to success is to define options immediately so that they have access to any and all services that will assist them in navigating the kinship care process and have knowledge their rights and options. In addition, ongoing support services are also crucial to the success of kin caregiving and the stabilization of the family through a very challenging and emotional transition. If you don’t give kin caregivers the tools needed upfront to get them established, then they won’t be able to sustain successful kin care.”
A kinship navigator is a conduit to information and resources you need immediately in order to make an informed decision. Any relative who is thinking about caring for kin should inquire immediately about what options are available to kinship caregivers, how to navigate the requirements and options set forth by the child welfare agency or Family Court, and determine the limitation on how much time there is to decide. Seeking independent advice from an attorney is also something to consider.
It’s critical that relatives fully understand their options and the level of support and obligations that come with each placement option. Relatives must consider the needs of the child and determine whether or not they will be able to adequately care for the child or if they need additional resources to care for the children on their own. Family Court is confusing and the pressure of a making a major decision with an immediate deadline can be daunting. A local kinship navigator can help you explore the two placement options available to kin families:
Decisions made starting from when child welfare agency is first involved will impact the future placement or permanency options available to kin families. Delaying or changing the decision to become a caregiver may jeopardize your opportunity to do so, depending upon the Family Court’s decision.
“According to NYS Kinship Navigators In New York State, there are an estimated 179,000 caregivers, 131,000 of whom are grandparents,” added Rae Glaser.
Kinship care placements can fail if caregivers don’t have the financial means to care for the children. The average profile of a kinship caregiver is age 55+, who is already caring for aged parent, and is working full time. They don’t have the financial resources to take on dependents and aren’t in a position to take a leave of absence from their place of employment while they figure the crisis situation out. It can quickly escalate into a financial crisis as well.
Relying on the support of a kinship navigator can be a huge help here in filling out the application and applying for financial assistance. It takes approximately four to six weeks to receive the financial assistance that is issued to take care of the child only. It is not an allowance or compensation to the caregiver.
Addiction knows no income bracket or ethnic background and it has no boundaries. Sadly, our entire nation is being plagued by the opioid crisis, not just our local communities. Kinship care is the solution to helping vulnerable and hurting children avoid foster care when possible. State and local agencies are committed to helping dedicated kin caregivers take on this commitment successfully as an extension of their parenting and overcoming the challenges.
For help in finding a kinship program and resources for relatives, start by calling the New York State Kinship Navigator, operated by Catholic Family Center, at (877) 454–6463, or visit the website at www.nysnavigator.org.
Having a Voice & a Choice: NYS Handbook for Relatives Raising Children handbook has detailed information and helpful resources for relatives. http://ocfs.ny.gov/main/publications/Pub5080.pdf.
The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has a section of their website devoted to kinship caregiver information, which can be found at http://ocfs.ny.gov/kinship/default.asp.
Parenting a Second Time Around book can be purchased at www.store.cornell.edu by selecting the following categories: Books > Cornell Coop Ext > Other CCE Titles.
A quick overview of Catholic Family Center