Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More support needed for grandparents and other kinship caregivers

by JJ Hitch, former foster youth, Michigan

My experience with foster care is considered a successful case all the way around. My three younger siblings and I had one kinship placement. We were able to stay together and were adopted by our grandparents. Though my story looks good on paper, in reality it was extremely difficult.

At age 10, I took on the role as the parent to my three younger siblings after my mother suffered a nervous breakdown. I was responsible for getting my siblings up in the morning and making sure they ate breakfast and brushed their teeth. I helped them make their lunches and walked them to school. When I returned home, I cooked dinner, did the dishes, helped my siblings with their homework and cleaned the house. I did this every single day for three years.

As the oldest child, I felt it was my duty to protect my younger siblings from the abuse my father inflicted, so I endured most of it. I blamed myself for not being able to completely protect my siblings. When my youngest sister was six, she packed her toys and clothes and ran away to our grandparents, who lived two blocks from our house. My nine-year-old brother soon followed.

When social services became involved, a caseworker told my family that if my siblings and I couldn’t stay with our grandparents, we would go into foster care and probably get split up. Out of all the tribulations I struggled with, nothing made my heart ache as much as that statement did. At the time, my siblings were like my own children. I did not suffer the things that were inflicted upon me for someone to uproot us from the only loving bond we had to other human beings.

When we moved in with our grandparents, I thought life would be simple. I thought I could finally relax. Reality soon hit us like a ton of bricks. My grandparents were told their house was too small, they had too many animals, they didn’t make enough money, they couldn’t sign fieldtrip permission slips … the list went on. We were forced to move to a bigger house and spent countless sleepless nights bringing the new house up to DHS’s standards before we could move in.

My grandparents’ income couldn’t handle a new mortgage, two car payments, four new mouths to feed, therapy bills for my siblings and me, medication, school clothes and supplies, and adoption costs. To be completely honest, my grandparents just couldn’t afford us.

There was almost no financial assistance available for my grandparents. After falling behind on house and car payments, my grandparents eventually had to file bankruptcy. I carry guilt inside me to this day. There simply wasn’t any help out there for us. Grandparents shouldn’t have to trade the love they have for their grandchildren for financial ruin and despair. Had my grandparents been provided with the supportive services they needed to raise my siblings and me, they would not have had to endure the heartbreak of losing everything to hold onto the ones that mattered most to them.

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