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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Boomerang: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

SARATOGA COUNTY - Grandparents or other relatives that are raising grandchildren often face a mountain of issues and hurdles in their efforts to give them a good home, but they don’t have to face their problems alone.

 

In a state where 153,000 children are raised in kinship families, or families that include grandparents or other relatives, many people are unaware of the poor circumstances and legal issues that kinship caregivers face.

Kinship caregivers are more likely to be single, unemployed, older and live in poorer households. The children in their care, however, have fewer behavioral and social problems, according to the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights.

Though children living under kinship care are often better off with their grandparents or relatives than with their parents, most kinship families receive little or no financial assistance or services to support the children’s needs. Unlike foster parents, who receive money and services from the government, kinship caregivers receive little to no aid to help raise their grandchildren.

“They’re very much on their own,” said Gerard Wallace, director of the New York State Kinship Navigator program, the only statewide kinship program, which administered by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and operated by Catholic Family Center.

Wallace, who has an extensive history working with kinship programs and fighting for legal rights for kinship caregivers, said that kinship services in New York State are at “a bare minimum.”

“Even at its height, there was only about $3 million divided out into programs among the state,” he said. “This year, because of budget cuts, it’s down to $1 million for the entire state.”

There is some help for kinship caregivers in the form of the Non-Parent (Child-Only) grant, which caregivers may apply for on behalf of the children. A full grant pays between $300-$500 per month for one child.  For each additional child, the grant increases between $100 and $200, according to the NYS Navigator website.

“Financial assistance is paramount for kinship givers,” Wallace said. “You’re adding another child, or even children, to your family. The public assistance grant is more generous than other states’, yet it is not enough to get the job done.”

Wallace added that grants and the amount of help caregivers receive are limited because kinship caregivers are not technically giving foster care to the children they are raising.

“These [grants] compare really negatively with foster care, where you double or triple the amount that kinship caregivers receive,” he said. “And if you are a foster parent of a child with special needs or exceptional needs, you get even higher rates for them.”

Financial issues aren’t the only problem for kinship caregivers. Kinship caregiver programs and advocates have been fighting for kinship rights for years, passing seven kinship-related laws in the past decade, according to Wallace.

Major laws concerning grandparents’ and kinship rights were passed, including the 2003 New York State Grandparents Rights Act and the 2008 Federal Fostering Connections to Success and Improving Adoption Act, which included both mandatory notification of grandparents upon the removal of children from their parents, and that information be provided to relatives about their custodial options in 30 days.

Currently, advocates of grandparents’ rights are trying to amend a law that gives children who live with their grandparents for two or more years the right to a trial before a judge gives them back to an absent parent. Advocates are trying to extend the law to benefit all relatives instead of just grandparents, though they are facing opposition from people who work against domestic violence and argue that this law could be abused by batterers.

“Right now, our advocates are going back to the Assembly and discussing sponsorship as well as trying to find a dialogue with those in opposition to see if we can extend this two-year period rule to all relatives,” Wallace said.

Wallace added that legal rights and financial problems are not the only issues that grandparents and relatives raising children face.

“Grandparents and relatives are not alone, yet until they come in contact with a service provider, their sense of isolation is gigantic,” he said. “The childless couples you’re friends with fade away because your interests are no longer the same, and yet you’re very much older than many of the parents who are raising children for the first time, so there’s a disconnect there.”

Wallace said these problems are well-addressed by support groups, which are a great way for grandparents or relatives who feel isolated to find a sense of common community, hear stories similar to theirs and start to create social relationships with other caregivers.

Grandparents and relatives in Saratoga Springs who are interested in learning more about kinship rights or want to join a supportive community where they can share their issues can do so at the Saratoga Springs Grandparents and Relatives Caring for Children Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month from 6-7 p.m. at Lake Avenue Elementary School, located at 126 Lake Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY.

For more information, contact the NCGCR staff at (518) 833-0215 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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