On December 29, 2020 – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 310 which authorizes payments from the Ohio Dept of Job and Family Services to pay kinship caregivers. This is a big deal and hopefully other states will now follow suit. The governor noted that in Ohio alone, there are 2,600 kinship caregivers providing safe and loving homes to nearly 4,000 children registered in a children services agency.
The governor ordered the development of a system to pay kinship cargivers by June 1, 2021 and that payments to caregivers should be caught up retroactively to the date the bill was signed – December 29, 2020.
Across the United States, 4% of all children (more than 2.65 million) are in kinship care. In this arrangement, relatives raise kids when their parents cannot care for them. This is an effort to keep families together.
There are three general and sometimes overlapping categories of kinship care. These categories are: 1) private or informal care, where families make arrangements with or without legal recognition of a caregiver’s status; 2) diversion kinship care, where children who have come to the attention of child welfare agencies end up living with a relative or close friend of the family. and 3) licensed or unlicensed kinship care, where kids live with relatives but remain in legal custody of the state.
There are many reasons that a parent may be unwilling or unable to care for their child, including death, incarceration, illness, substance abuse and financial instability.
Kinship caregivers may be grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or family friends of the children in their care. Caregivers often feel responsible for extended family members and prefer to care personally for relative children who may otherwise end up in non-relative foster care. In many cases, grandparents and other relatives have not planned for the addition of children to the home, and may have problems accessing social and educational services that have changed drastically since they raised their own children. Some caregivers experience feelings of guilt and social isolation resulting from fear of the perception that one failed in raising one’s own child. Caregivers may be hesitant to pursue legal custody of children in their care if they want to maintain relationships with the child’s biological parent, or if they view the arrangement as temporary.
Grandfamilies face obstacles not encountered by biological parents such as obtaining medical and educational services for the children in their care and securing affordable housing in which they can live with the children. Many of the public assistance benefits available to birth parents and foster families are not available to kinship caregivers even if the child was receiving assistance in the parent’s home. Some states offer “subsidized guardianship” payments for kinship families with children placed through children services agencies or foster care agencies, although these payments are substantially less than payments that non-relative foster families receive.
Financial issues are common for many older grandparents and great-grandparents who are living on fixed incomes, Social Security or disability payments, who did not plan to raise children late in life, or who are raising children with demanding educational or medical needs. The prevalence of these financial issues has led to a high rate of food insecurity, job loss and home foreclosure in families who support additional children without adequate financial and service assistance. The obstacles can be even greater in “informal” care arrangements, where the relative caregiver lacks a legal relationship (such as legal custody or guardianship) with the child.