NEW LEXINGTON — When a child is in foster care, it is not unusual to have a grandparent or a relative take care of that child. The month of September recognizes the kinship caregivers who step up as the number of kinships increase and are more and more common.
Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted signed and published a proclamation on Aug. 28 of this year. The document highlights how the number of kinship caregivers are on the rise.
The proclamation states that according to 2010 census reports, 4.9 million children, which translates to seven percent of children in the United States, under the age of 18 live with grandparents. These statistics are an increase compared to census data in 2000 which recorded 4.5 million children living with grandparents in the United States.
In Ohio, over 200,000 children, under 18 years of age, live in homes where they are cared for by grandparents or family relatives. The number of children in kinship in Ohio translated to 8.9 percent of children in the state, according to the proclamation. With specific insight, 180,000 children in Ohio live with grandparents and 45,000 live with other relatives.
The document recognizes some of the agencies that give assistance to kinship families and caregivers. Those included were the Ohio Grandparent Kinship Coalition and the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. Both entities promote and provide safe environments for children to live in.
At the end of the proclamation, DeWine and Husted officially recognized the month of September as Grandparent and Kinship Month. Both elected officials signed the proclamation.
Perry County Children Services (PCCS), located in New Lexington, works with kinship caregivers “daily” as stated by PCCS’ Social Worker Wendy Barcus. PCCS’ main mission is to shield children from maltreatment and makes an effort to keep children safe in their own homes.
Kinship care is a reference to a temporary or permanent arrangements where a relative, or a close non-relative adult, has taken the full time duty of taking care of a child when the biological parents are unable or unwilling. Reason for a child to be in kinship care can include death or illness, substance abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, poverty or other associated problems. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services highlights this definition in the Ohio Resource Guide for Relatives Caring for Children.
The PCCS currently has 22 kinship providers that have 32 children in their care. According to Barcus, this makes up half of the children who are in foster care that they assist. The organization works with both non-relative and relative kinship caregivers.
Part of the reason for the PCCS dealing with kinships so frequently partly has to do with when a child is under the guidance and care of PCCS. When the entity take custody of a child, it is preferred by PCCS, that the child stays with a relative or someone that they are familiar with instead of putting that child in a foster home. PCCS will also work with the child to find a suitable home.
While a child is in the process of being put into the care of a kinship provider, some steps must be taken to assure the child is put in a safe and caring environment. Potential kinship caregivers must go through and pass home studies, background checks and drug screens.
While kinship caregivers are a viable alternative to traditional foster care, Barcus noted that sometimes kinship families are not given the credit they deserve for raising a child. Barucs also commented that the foster families that PCCS works with are very cooperative with the organization and give children the care that they need.
“I think that sometimes kinship providers feel unseen… because it is not traditional foster care,” Barcus said. “All of our kinship providers (are) not compensated — they take care of the children out of their pockets.”
With the month dedicated to recognizing those who work in kinship care, the PCCS plans to do a special recognition for its kinship families. Barcus stated that PCCS wants to acknowledge those caregivers to let them know that they are appreciated.
“We are still kind of in the works of what we can do for our kinship providers,” Barcus noted.
In some cases, a child who is in kinship care is allowed to have contact with their parents. Barucs stated that this can be beneficial for a child because the program does not sever the relationship of the parents with their child or children.
There are also incentives for people who are hesitant about kinship care. Some relatives are hesitant because of the cost associated with raising a child. PCCS has a program called Kinship Permanency Incentive (KPI) which deals with legal custody cases. KPI gives a financial incentive by giving caregivers access to six payments to help with raising a child. There are currently 61 families utilizing the KPI program through PCCS.
PCCS also has a Kinship Connection Program for families who find themselves on hard times. The case management program assists families by linking them with case managers and resources in the community to help suffice what families may need help with.
In terms of what some families may need, it can vary on a case by case basis. Needs can come in the form of financial assistance, clothing, school supplies and everyday basic needs. Costs add up when a kinship caregiver already has children of their own.
“I wish there was even more support for them,” Barcus said.