By: Norma Hatfield
This hand written letter and drawing was completed at the beginning of a school year when my granddaughter (age 7 at the time) had to complete a school assignment in which she had to do a self -portrait and write something special about herself.
What’s so interesting is that Kayla is not alone. She along with approximately 60,000 children are living with a relative in Kentucky and mostly grandparents are the caregivers.
When I got my granddaughter and her step-sister out of foster care, I was overwhelmed with the event that had them removed from their home (drugs) along with the processes within the courts, and just trying to make the children feel safe and loved. I had not financially planned this, but for me it was OK. For others in my situation it continues to be a struggle.
Over time, I began to meet many other grandparents and relatives, known as kinship caregivers, and hear their stories. There were so many families struggling to take care of two, three, four and five children at a time. Seniors borrowing from their retirement accounts just to get through the month or year. Aunts and uncles trying to manage daily care for babies going through drug withdrawals and having to quit their jobs. Families just doing their best to maintain a loving and familiar home with family they knew and were comfortable with instead of the alternative which would have been foster care.
I decided to start writing letters to legislators and the Governor. I wrote multiple times. I just believed that if they understood the issues affecting so many Kentucky children and families, that something would change.
Soon after writing, I was able to have a meeting with my local State Senator, Senator Dennis Parrett. He sat with me as I told my story. I shared statistics from the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky. I shared stories of the struggling families that I had met and ultimately we got to the topic of Kinship Care as a better option to provide for our Kentucky children.
I explained that prior to 2013, there was some monetary help for relative caregivers. The Kinship Care Program provided approximately $300 a month per child for relatives taking care of children that were removed from their homes for reasons such as neglect and abuse. Yet, while the numbers of relative caregivers began to grow, the assistance stopped completely.
Senator Parrett took the data and information and promised he would get back with me. He was true to his word. In January 2017, Senator Parrett filed Senate Bill 29, to permanently establish a program for kinship care and provide additional supports for kinship caregivers.
This was a critical point for me. I figured, if one letter to one Senator would convince him to support the Bill, then I needed to get hundreds of letters from across the State to every Senator in Frankfort. They collectively needed to understand what’s happening to our children and families in Kentucky; To read their stories, see their names and understand how many people care about this issue.
Amazingly, the word started spreading and letters started arriving. Grandparents, school teachers, school resource coordinators, police officers, aunts, uncles, and concerned citizens across the State were helping me collect letters and emails. It was a mission for the children. The first batch of letters (approximately 1,000) were copied for each State Senator and hand delivered on Children’s Advocacy Day at the Capitol on February 9, 2017. The plan is to continue collecting letters through the end of March 2017 when hopefully the right decision will be made.
If you want to be part of something extremely important to our children of Kentucky, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask legislators to support SB 29 to permanently establish a program for kinship care. Please provide your mailing address (in case legislators want to write you back). You should be 18 and a resident of Kentucky.
I wouldn’t change the opportunity to raise these two girls. They are amazing children and deserve to stay with our family. I was so grateful to get them out of foster care and raise them, and so many children deserve the same. Kinship Care helps family take care of family.
Through organizations such as the Kentucky Youth Advocates, Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, along with all the caring people in the state, we can make our voices heard on behalf of the children of Kentucky.
Our voices together can make a difference.
Norma Hatfield is a grandmother from Hardin County and is a member of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky.
Track the progress of SB 29 on the Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.