Overcoming Kinship Care Obstacles by Educating Yourself and Asking for Help
by Jamie Bazemore •
Lack of knowledge regarding what services and supports are available can be an enormous barrier for kinship caregivers. How can you advocate for what you need when you don’t know what’s out there?
The first step is simply learning to ask for more knowledge and information. Following are some ways to learn about available services.
Sit down with your child’s child welfare worker. Explain to them what supports you need and what questions you have.
Create a list of items to discuss with the social worker when they visit to help you keep track of your questions and needs.
Seek out a support group for kinship/foster parents in your area.
Find a mentor. Ask the child welfare agency to link you with an experienced kinship caregiver in your community.
Learn about becoming a licensed foster parent.
Use resources such as:
- Benefits Checklist
- Children’s Services Practice Notes volume 16, no. 1
- Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System
- For Relative/Kinship Caregivers
- Grandfacts NC
Services and referrals may be more widely available to children who are in the custody of a county DSS, but there are also community resources available to children in informal kinship situations.
Adding children to your family is both an emotional and financial transition. There are financial support options that children living with kin may be eligible for:
Foster Care Board Payments. If the children are in foster care, you may be able to become a licensed foster parent and access the monthly foster care board payments. Talk to your social worker as soon as possible about this option, because becoming licensed involves training, home visits, background checks, and time for completing other requirements.
Adoption Assistance and KinGAP. If you are a kinship caregiver moving towards guardianship or adoption, discuss with your social worker the possibilities and eligibility requirements for Adoption Assistance and Guardianship Assistance (KinGAP).
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF is a monthly assistance program designed to help low income families become self-sufficient. You can apply for TANF as a family based on your household’s income. Even if your family is ineligible, the relative children in your care may still qualify for TANF. To apply for TANF, visit your county department of social services (https://bit.ly/2Nperhy).
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP is the federal food assistance program commonly know as food stamps. It is available to families with incomes below a certain level. Your entire household’s income is evaluated for eligibility. To apply, visit your county DSS.
WIC. This is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. WIC provides basic nutritious food and formula to pregnant, postpartum, and nursing women and children up to age 5. To find the WIC program in your county visit https://bit.ly/2Mwd4hh.
SSI. Supplemental Security Income may be available to caregivers or children who are disabled and individuals over age 65. To learn more, visit https://bit.ly/2MwttCt.
Don’t forget, there are often community support programs through your county DSS, faith community, or other agencies that can assist with additional expenses for caring for relative children such as clothing vouchers/closets, food banks, school supply drives, and Christmas Angel/Wish programs.
Counseling, Therapy, and Behavioral Healthcare
Children who have experienced big transitions, including removal from their parents, often benefit from therapy and counseling. Seeking out a therapist in your community who accepts your child’s health insurance is a first step in accessing the support they need. As a parallel process, consider whether your transition to parenting a child who may have experienced trauma is affecting your day to day life as well. You may want to seek out therapy or counseling for yourself. In North Carolina, behavioral health services are managed by Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations (LMEs/MCOs). To find the LME/MCO that serves your county visit https://bit.ly/2ZgoQCB. From there you can contact the LME/MCO to explore counseling and therapy providers in your area.
Many children being raised by relatives are eligible for Medicaid. You can apply for Medicaid at your County DSS, by mail, or online. Learn more at https://bit.ly/2Myrbmu. Make sure to discuss with the children’s social worker how any permanency decisions could affect the child’s eligibility for Medicaid.
Attending court as a kinship care provider can be overwhelming. What is the dress code? Where is the courthouse? Should the children attend? Will you or the children be required to speak to a judge? All of these and more may be questions that you have.
It is important as a kinship care provider that you be engaged in any court actions that affect the children in your care. Try to attend court and understand what decisions are being made for the children and their/your family. Create a list of questions for the social worker in advance of court and make sure to address them during a home visit. Some additional questions you may wish to consider are:
- What decisions may be made at the court hearing?
- What is the permanent plan for the children?
- Will the birth parents be present?
- Who will have an attorney?
- Is there anything else I should know to prepare myself and/or the children for court?
Your role as the kinship caregiver and how that applies to educational advocacy and decision making varies based on the legal status of the children in your care. Regardless, you are parenting the child and should advocate on behalf of their educational needs. Discuss with the school—and DSS, if applicable—what educational needs, challenges, or successes you are observing. Ask to be present at meeting with the school, stay in touch with the school staff, and request assessment for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), if you believe the child has a physical, emotional, or learning disability that impairs their school performance.
This is not an exhaustive list: there may be other areas where you as a kinship caregiver desire or require support services. Remember, don’t ever be afraid to ask for and advocate for what you need for your family and the children in your care. By maintaining an open dialogue about your strengths and challenges with the professionals involved with your family, you can begin to access the services and supports you require.
Jamie Bazemore, BSW, MSW is the Adoption Facilitator for Stephenson & Fleming, LLP and a Child Welfare Program Consultant for Cansler Collaborative Resources.