Kinship care support doesn’t make it easier, it helps to make it possible

I got to know some of the best Kentuckians you could ever meet at last week’s public hearing on the cuts to kinship care and child care subsidies. I had the privilege of driving to Frankfort with Phyllis, a 63 year old grandmother who is stepping up to raise her 16 month and 3 year old granddaughters, both who were born addicted to cocaine. As the married mother of two girls the same age, I frequently characterize this as an “intense” time in my life – and I have a full-time partner to help with the caregiving, the chores, and the finances. And while my girls present all kinds of, how shall I say…challenging behaviors…my daughters don’t come with special health care needs. I also had a full 9 months to prepare for taking on the responsibility of being a parent. Phyllis had less than 24 hours when she got the call from the hospital.

Phyllis is doing this all on her own and at a time in her life when she thought she would be preparing for retirement. Despite having to cut back to part-time work… despite the sleepless nights…despite the frequent trips to the emergency room when her babies have trouble breathing because of the damage done to their lungs from prenatal drug exposure…despite the obvious financial concerns…Phyllis believes without a doubt that she is doing the right thing for her granddaughters. In her words, “These children need to have a foundation in order to have future.” Her eyes light up with joy when she describes the pleasure of watching her granddaughters develop a special sisterly bond with each other or hear them tell her how much they love her. Stepping up to raise these two girls is the best gift she could ever give them.

Phyllis took time off from work and made the trip to Frankfort for the public hearing last Tuesday because she is incredulous that the Beshear Administration is cutting funds for kinship care – now at a time when more grandparents and relatives than ever are stepping up to raise children in Kentucky.

Phyllis is actually one of the lucky ones because her granddaughters started participating in the Kinship Care Program before April 1, and they will be allowed to continue receiving $300/month per child. To be clear, this small amount of money doesn’t make it easier for Phyllis to raise her granddaughters. It helps to make it possible. But due to the recent cuts, no new families will be allowed to take part. This leads to a sad scenario in which more children are forced into the foster care system because their relatives simply cannot afford to take them in. Is this what we want for Kentucky?

Phyllis made the trip because she wanted to share two messages with decision makers in Frankfort:

1)      In Kentucky, family values are more than just talk. Phyllis’ granddaughters are better off with her, than with strangers, even well-intentioned strangers. Research proves this time and again.

2)      These cuts are penny-wise, pound foolish. The average foster care placement costs the state $70/day, compared to $10/day for Kinship Care. The Beshear Administration says it wants to save taxpayer dollars, but cutting support for kinship families will achieve the opposite.

Will you join Phyllis in speaking out against the cuts to the Kinship Care Program? Our state leaders need to hear from you. Tomorrow, May 31 is the final day to submit written comments to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services regarding the cuts. Click here to learn how to do so.

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