Sunday, August 14, 2011

Generations United Grandrally

On September 15th on the US Capitol Lawn the 4th GrandRally will take place to advocate for support for grandparents raising their grandchildren.  I have attended the past 2 GrandRallies and have been impressed with the grandparents who have traveled from all over the country to attend this rally. The picture above is of the contingent of grandparents we brought from Baltimore that are members of the Baltimore Grandfamilies program.  Having spent the past 7 years working to develop programs for this population in Baltimore I have seen first hand how much of a struggle this is for grandparents.  Often raising grandchildren in neighborhoods with gangs, crime and drugs the grandparents are afraid of their ability to keep their grandchildren from the dangers of these communities.  Click on this link to learn more about the Rally.  Click on this link to see one of the award winners you might recognize at this years Generations United Conference.
Then Senator Clinton with Grandfamilies at 2006 GrandRally

The numbers of grandchildren being raised by their grandparents in this country is estimated at over 1.5 million children.  The number is triple the number of children in foster care.  Most of the grandparents are receiving minimal financial support to help with the cost of raising their grandchildren.  Many of these grandparents are single grandparents with only small checks from Social Security. 

This year's rally will focus on the implementation of the new federal legislation that permits states to use Title IV-E funds to fund subsidized guardianship for grandparents and other kin.  The amount of financial support can be considerably higher than the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families commonly called TANF.  This program is the replacement for the old Assistance to Dependent Families with Children or AFDC.  As Generations United explained on its website:

"On October 7, 2008, The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (Fostering Connections Act) unanimously became federal law. This Act is the most significant child welfare law in the last ten years. Among its many provisions, for the first time, it gives all states the option to use funds through Federal Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (Title IV-E) to finance kinship guardianship assistance -- otherwise known as subsidized guardianship -- to enable children in the care of grandparents and other relatives to exit foster care into permanent homes. Prior to this new law, 38 states and the District of Columbia had some form of subsidized guardianship, primarily paid for using state or local funds, but in some states financed through federal Temporary Assistance for Needy families monies or Title XX Social Services block grant funds. Eleven states also had waivers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) specifically allowing them to use Title IV-E funds for their subsidized guardianship programs, but the waiver program ended in 2006.

The passage of the Fostering Connections Act was a huge victory for the kinship care community because, although there were many subsidized guardianship programs, most were underutilized. Case workers, judges, and lawyers were reluctant to move children from a reliable funding source -- Title IV-E foster care payments -- to funding that may not have continued to be available. Despite the many positive advances in this new law, the kinship community must be vigilant about ensuring that states do not constrict subsidized guardianship programs that used to be available to many more children than those who are Title IV-E eligible.
In general and under the new Title IV-E option, subsidized guardianships are designed for those children who have been in foster care, with a relative providing the care for at least six months. For those children for whom reunification with their parents and adoption are ruled out as permanency options, these subsidized guardianships give the existing caregiver the opportunity to become the legal guardian of the child, thereby replacing the state in that role. The court that considers the granting of guardianship reviews the appropriateness and permanence of the placement and, in cases of older children, often seeks the input of the child as well. If the court finds that the guardianship is in the “best interest” of the child and grants it, the state no longer has custody and there is little or no child welfare agency oversight. The caregiver now stands in the shoes of the parent and can make all routine decisions without government authority. The caregiver can consent to immunizations, sleepovers, school pictures, and sign report cards, all without asking social workers or judges for approval. The parent, moreover, retains certain rights and responsibilities, including the right to consent to adoption and the obligation of child support. The parent can also still visit with the child, unless the judge granting guardianship has limited that right due to the “best interest” of the child.

After guardianship is granted, the state issues a monthly subsidy check to the guardian for the care of the child. Under the new option, the subsidy cannot exceed the foster care rate, states must pay non-recurring costs of legal guardianship (e.g., legal fees) up to $2,000, and children are automatically eligible for Medicaid. The subsidy payments usually end when the guardianship terminates or when the child turns 18 (21 in some states).

Subsidized guardianship programs provide an important permanency option to many children. An option that is responsive to long and proud Native American, Latino, and African-American traditions of stepping in to care for relatives when parents have been unable to care for the children. These programs are also sensitive to many other types of family concerns that prevent a child from being adopted. For example, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings who are long-term foster parents may not want to initiate a legal adoption process. A process that must prove that that their own relative, the parent, is unfit, sever all of the birth’s parents legal ties to the child, and make the relative the “parent.” These caregivers are already family, and many wonder why should they be the “mother” or “father” when those people exist? These programs further provide an important option to older foster children who in particular often want to maintain a relationship with their parent and do not want to sever all legal ties, possibly making it impossible for them to even visit. Finally, for mentally or physically disabled parents who are unable to care for a child on a daily basis, subsidized guardianship programs allow these children in long-term foster care to exit the system, while allowing the birth parent to remain involved in the life of their child, share their estate, and allow their child to collect benefits, such as military or disability, which they are only entitled to as their child.

In addition to the benefits to grandfamilies, subsidized guardianship placements can be supported at less expense to all taxpayers because there are fewer administrative costs than with managing and overseeing an open foster care case.[3] Caseworkers, judges, and child welfare agencies have to be paid for their time and expenses doing frequent home visits and reviews that are not necessary for these safe and stable grandfamilies. These costs are well spent to protect other children placed in short-term living arrangements where success and safety must be monitored, but are not necessary in successful long-term living arrangements where other permanency options have been ruled out."

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