Melissa Martin

By Melissa Martin – Contributing Columnist

According to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s website, “Ohio is at the center of our nation’s opioid epidemic. At least 14 Ohioans a day die from opiate overdoses, and that number is likely higher.” That’s a lot of parents who die and leave homeless children. Or the drug addicted parent is incarcerated, in rehab, or cannot be a caregiver for other reasons. And the children are being cared for by grandfamilies.

What are Grandfamilies?

“Grandfamilies or kinship families are families in which children reside with and are being raised by grandparents, other extended family members, and adults with whom they have a close family-like relationship such as godparents and close family friends,” according to Generations United (GU). See www.grandfamilies.org.

In 2017 the nonprofit organization Integrating Professionals for Appalachian Children (IPAC) in Athens County, Ohio held a conference entitled, No One Left Behind: Building Supportive Communities Around Children and Families Affected by the Opioid Crisis. Visit www.ipacohio.org/aprilconference. Ana Beltran, special advisor of the Generations United National Center on Grandfamilies in Washington D.C., was a primary speaker. See www.gu.org/.

GU National Statistics

  1. More than 40% of children in foster care living with relatives in 2014 were removed from their parents’ care because of parental alcohol or drug use, up from 34% in 2008.
  2. More than 2.5 million children are raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and other extended family and close family friends who step forward to care for them when parents are unable.
  3. In about a third of these homes neither of the children’s parents are in the home.
  4. With the rise in heroin and other opioid use, more relatives are raising children.
  5. Despite barriers, research shows that children living in grandfamilies thrive.

GU released its 2016 State of Grandfamilies Report on Raising the Children of the Opioid Epidemic: Solutions and Supports for Grandfamilies. As a result the U.S. Senate Aging committee met in 2017 for a hearing called Grandparent to the Rescue: Raising Grandchildren in the Opioid Crisis and Beyond. What was the outcome? The bipartisan Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act was introduced to create a federal task force and central place for information for grandfamilies.

The GU recommends the following:

  1. Reform federal child welfare in support of grandfamilies to prevent children from entering and re-entering foster care.
  2. Adoption of the Model Family Foster Home Licensing Standards so more relatives can be licensed foster parents.
  3. Ensure grandfamilies can access financial assistance to meet children’s needs by improving access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and providing time-limited financial support for children who are candidates for foster care.
  4. Educate grandfamily members on legal options and improving access to legal assistance.

What is D.O. v. Glisson?

According to GU, in Kentucky and in one-third of all states, “it is a common practice to “approve” but not “license” foster care relatives and avoid paying relatives as they pay non-related foster parents. In Kentucky, “approval means that the relative has gone through a home study and a criminal background check, but has not been formally licensed as a foster parent.” By not “licensing” relatives, many states avoid paying and supporting grandfamilies whereas they pay and support non-related foster parents.

D.O. v. Glisson is a federal court case about relatives involved with the child welfare agency who care for children in Kentucky’s foster care system. The court ruled the agency “must pay relatives “approved” to care for children in foster care just as they do “licensed” foster parents. The state must now provide monthly foster care maintenance payments to any relative “approved” by the state to care for a child in the legal custody of the child welfare agency.” The court decision does not apply for children adopted by relatives or in permanent legal custody/guardianship of relatives.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services sought an appeal from the U.S. Supreme Court along with 14 other states. The Supreme Court chose not to hear the case.

For more information about D.O. v. Glisson, 847 F.3d 374 (6th Cir. 2017) visit www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/17-17-opinion-below.pdf or contact Ana Beltran, Special Advisor, Generations United at abeltran@gu.org. Or contact the Dept. of Job and Family Services or the County Children Services in your county and state.

Ohio and Grandfamilies

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision also impacts Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. “Of these three states, Ohio is the only state that similarly “approves” relatives and therefore is the only state where caregivers should be impacted” according to information on GU’s website.

Ohio Revised Code

Relative Placement for Foster Care and Guardianship, Citation: Rev. Code § 5101.85; Admin. Code § 5101:2-42-05 states “Unless it is not in the child’s best interests, the agency shall explore placement with a noncustodial parent before considering other relatives…A kinship caregiver is a person age 18 or older who is related to the child by blood or marriage and who is caring for the child in place of the child’s parents. Relatives can include: grandparents, including great, great-great, and great-great-great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces, including any relative with a great, great-great, or grand prefix, first cousins and first cousins once removed, stepparents and stepsiblings of the child, spouses or former spouses of any of the above, a legal guardian or legal custodian of the child.”

Kinship Care vs. Foster Care

According to a 2013 report by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Approximately 45 States and Puerto Rico give preference or priority to relative placements in their statutes. Massachusetts, Ohio, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia require child-placing agencies to give preference to placements with relatives in regulation.”

An example given in another article discussed the Kinship Adoption Project (KAP) in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The results of “taking legal custody or guardianship of a child causes many kinship families to lose financial support, including foster care stipends or potential adoption subsidies. In many cases, kinship providers are only able to apply for much lower financial assistance for children in their care. In addition, they may lose access to case management services that could help them access financial and other concrete resources as needed.” The licensing process requires time and resources for foster and adoptive grandfamilies and criteria must be met. Some grandfamilies give up on the red-tape, intrusion, and dismiss the child welfare agency to seek other options.

Feedback from Grandfamilies

Some kinship caregivers reported struggling to support their families financially and frustration at not receiving the same financial support as foster parents (non-relatives). Some relatives do not want custody because of their relationship with the children’s parents. And some relatives opt for less financial support because they want less control from the child welfare agency.

Questions:

  1. Should children have to be in state custody via the child welfare agency in order for the grandfamilies to receive adequate financial support?
  2. Is there flexibility from the child welfare system whereas each situation has different options?
  3. Should grandfamilies (kinship care) receive the same legal rights and responsibilities as non-related foster parents?
  4. Should Ohio agencies license grandfamilies and pay the same monthly support to help them raise the children of drug addicted parents as they pay non-relatives?

I perused the Ohio Attorney General’s new webpage about foster families and could not find any information pertaining to Ohio grandfamilies (relatives, kinship) “approved” or “licensed” to care for a child in legal custody of the child welfare agency. See www.Ohio AttorneyGeneral.gov/Foster Families. I read the 12 points of Dewine’s Recovery Ohio Plan and I did not find any information pertaining to grandfamilies and the problem I addressed in this article. However, The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) oversees Ohio’s foster care system.

I would like Dewine to outline a plan for how he will use a large portion of the money received from the drug companies in Ohio’s lawsuit to fund programs for the children of the opioid crisis and grandfamilies.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.

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