Presidential budget proposes support for kinship families

  • Cassandra Sanchez, New Hampshire’s child advocate, testifies against a bill to create a watchdog for special education.

Monitor staff
Published: 10/30/2022 12:54:46 PM
Modified: 10/30/2022 12:54:26 PM

In a state where the opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities and rupture families, the toll has been especially hard on children left without their parents.

“There’s a lot of opioid orphans. There’s parents that are struggling with substance use or they have overdosed and died or are incarcerated,” said Joelyn Drennan, the senior programs director at New Hampshire Children’s Trust. “We have this whole generation of children that are being raised by their families with very little support.” 

These grandfamilies, or kinship families, form when grandparents, aunts and uncles or other adults step in to raise children when their parents are unable to. 

Soon, these families could see new federal assistance. 

President Biden’s budget specifically spells out its intentions to promote placing foster children with relatives or other familiar adults, instead of group homes or institutions. To do so, it proposes reimbursing states at a higher rate for kinship care and providing more funding for programs, like New Hampshire’s Kinship Navigator Program, that support these families. 

This money is still wrapped up in the budget approval process, with the House of Representatives and Senate appropriations committees reviewing the requests. But both the House and Senate bills include funding for kinship care. 

When Cassandra Sanchez, the state’s child advocate, first saw the proposal she was surprised given the widespread need for government assistance across the country. But she is happy that there is clear attention and support for children who can often be overlooked by the child welfare system.

Studies show that kinship care is the most effective solution for children in the foster care system, said Sanchez. Children are more supported when they are with familiar adults, compared to system solutions like group homes or institutional care. 

“Kids do better when they're in kinship homes. They have less placements. There's a reduction in behaviors, or at least had a bit of an understanding of willingness to work with them through their behaviors,” she said. “If we're really looking out for what kids need, then we're including as many healthy adults in their lives as possible.”

The Kinship Navigator Program, run through the Children’s Trust, supports relatives who are now assuming parental duties, with education, funding for concrete needs like clothes and food, and resources on navigating schooling. 

It is hard to know how many kinship families exist in the state. Many relatives care for children without formal custody from the Division for Children, Youth and Families, which makes it hard to pinpoint the statewide need. 

But the beauty of the Kinship Navigator Program, according to Drennan, is that they can serve anyone. In many cases, families may be caring for a child without formal custody and therefore are excluded from the financial and case management services the Division for Children, Youth and Families provides. 

With that, the Kinship Navigator Program can help supplement this assistance for new caregivers. 

The presidential budget directly targets programs like this, to help bolster services that encourage relatives to care for children. 

“What Biden’s administration is proposing would only enhance the services that they already are providing,” said Sanchez. 

To gain formal custody, relatives currently have to go through the same process that other non-relative foster parents go through. It is a strenuous process, involving home inspections, interviews, background checks, among other qualifying factors. 

However, in the next legislative session, Sanchez hopes the state will change this. 

Some states have a specific licensing process for kinship care, which allows for the process to be separated. Families would go through the background and safety checks upfront, but home inspections could be completed while the child has already been placed in the home. 

This would expedite the process for relatives to take guardianship and place children with family members. Once they have legal custody they then are eligible for payments and state support services. 

These policy changes and federal funding will only continue to help kinship families in the state and provide preventative care for children who have lost parental support. 

“There's a lot of momentum and awareness,” said Drennan. “I may be the eternal optimist, but it's really nice to see that there's recognition of prevention and primary prevention and supporting families.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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