Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's Time for Subsidized Guardianship and Other Supports for Relative Caregivers

by Joe Kroll, NACAC executive director

On Monday, March 12, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) formally announced the reintroduction of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act, which would provide needed support to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives caring for vulnerable children and youth.

As Senator Clinton explained in a press conference, "So many grandparents and other relatives are making great personal sacrifices to provide safe and loving homes for the children in their care. These guardians often take on this responsibility unexpectedly, facing physical, emotional, and financial challenges," said Senator Clinton. "Too often, the deck is stacked against these caring relatives: difficulties gaining formal custody of the children in their care, enrolling children in school, authorizing medical treatment, retaining public housing, getting affordable legal services, and accessing benefits that could help them provide care. By taking common sense steps, we can remove these unnecessary barriers and address the unique challenges facing kinship caregivers struggling to do the right thing for our children," said Senator Clinton.

NACAC supports this legislation (see our position statements on kinship care and subsidized guardianship). We are particularly interested in seeing federal support for subsidized guardianship. Guardianship is a permanency option that is right for many of the children and youth in foster care who cannot return to their birth families, but for whom adoption is not the right option. I have been particularly moved by several youth in care who have spoken about the reasons guardianship would be the best permanency option for them:

Jackie Hammers-Crowell of Iowa, whose mother’s developmental delays prevented her from raising Jackie, explains why guardianship would have been better than aging out of care as she did: “Subsidized guardianship may have kept me with my extended birth family, saved the state money, and kept my mom’s parental rights from being needlessly, hurtfully terminated against our wills.” Montana resident Rob Carson had a similar experience. Although they couldn’t raise him, he had connections with his birth parents and did not want to relinquish those ties.

Nationally about 19,250 children live with relative foster parents with little hope of reunifying with their birth parents. Subsidized guardianship would enable them to leave foster care—thereby reducing administrative and court costs—while also supporting the relatives who care for them. We’ll pay relatives to care for children in foster care or adoption, but not when they choose guardianship—a valid permanency option that is right for many families.

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