Kentucky Continues Advocacy for ‘Kinship Care’ Families

Barry Shrout willingly took on the role of raising his four granddaughters, despite acknowledging that it is both exhausting and expensive.

Shrout, a 66-year-old single grandfather from Maysville, has custody of four girls, aged 10, 11, 13, and 17. He expressed how important the financial aspect of caregiving is to him, saying, “I have to daily watch every nickel and dime I spend.”

Norma Hatfield, the president of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, has renewed her near-decade-long crusade for more support for relatives who are raising around 59,000 Kentucky children in what is commonly referred to as “kinship care.”

Norma Hatfield in 2018 rolls a cart through the Capitol with packets of information for lawmakers about kinship care. Hatfield is renewing her push for more help for grandparents, like herself, and other relatives who care for an estimated 59,000 Kentucky children. (Deborah Yetter)

Hatfield acknowledged that Kentucky has implemented some changes to aid relatives who are taking care of children due to parental inability or the loss of custody due to neglect, abuse, or addiction. However, she believes that more support is necessary, considering the significant number of older relatives who have stepped in to avoid placing children in foster care, which places a financial burden on the state.

“I communicate with so many caregivers, and I keep hearing the same issues, the same struggles, and I don’t see a lot of change,” Hatfield said. “It’s been nine years. Why can’t we do better?”

Kentucky Youth Advocates appreciates the changes that state social services has made to assist caregivers, but they continue to advocate for additional support, especially for those who are on fixed incomes and have taken in children.

Shannon Moody, the chief policy and strategy officer for the nonpartisan advocacy group, expressed concern about recent reports of children sleeping in state social services offices due to the lack of suitable placements or being sent out of state to residential centers or psychiatric hospitals. Moody believes that placing children with relatives or trusted caregivers, known as “fictive kin,” could help alleviate the strain on the system.

“Some of the recommendations we are making are making sure kids are with family or family-based care,” Moody stated.

Moody and Hatfield appeared before the General Assembly’s joint Committee on Families and Children to propose recommendations that would benefit kinship caregivers.

However, Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield and committee co-chair, expressed reservations about providing financial assistance to caregivers without sufficient oversight.

“It’s a very big ask for the General Assembly to give money out without any strings attached,” Heavrin said. “I understand your story, but we can’t just write a blank check, either.”

Hatfield and Moody clarified that they are not asking for a blank check, but they believe that more work is required to ensure caregivers understand the challenges they face, the assistance available to them, and the associated expenses.

“We can’t just leave them drained, completely drained,” Hatfield emphasized.

‘Dropped like a hot potato’

Until 2013, the state provided kinship care providers with a monthly payment of $300 per child. In contrast, state-certified foster parents receive around $750 per month for each child.

However, the kinship program was closed to new applicants ten years ago due to budget constraints.

Since then, Kentucky has restored some assistance following a class-action lawsuit that argued that kinship caregivers were essentially providing the same services as foster parents but without payment. Now, relatives can receive foster care payments if they agree to undergo training and certification by the state. The amount of the monthly payments varies based on the extent to which the relatives meet all the requirements set by the state.

However, if the child moves from foster to permanent status, such as through adoption or permanent custody, the payments cease.

“They are dropped like a hot potato,” Hatfield exclaimed. “You take what you can when you can.”

Good news for family, foster caregivers

Recent federal rule changes will allow relatives to receive full foster pay even if their homes don’t meet all licensing standards.

Kentucky officials are currently evaluating how to implement this change, which Hatfield believes will be significant for relative caregivers.

In more positive news, Gov. Andy Beshear proposed $10 million per year over the next two years in his budget, aiming to provide additional financial support to relatives who agree to care for children under the state’s social service system. The budget also included an annual increase of $9.8 million for foster caregivers by 12%.

Hatfield expressed immense gratitude to the governor for these proposed funding allocations, as they would alleviate the financial strain on families.

“I’m so grateful to the governor for the proposed funding in the budget for kinship and foster families,” she said. “It gives me and many others a renewed sense of hope.”

Hatfield plans to work with other advocates to convince lawmakers of the necessity of these funds during the upcoming legislative session when the state’s next two-year budget is drafted.

Additional support available to caregivers includes the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program, which provides a modest monthly payment per child, Medicaid health coverage, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and

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