By MADDY O’CALLAGHAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new bill would establish a kinship caregiver advisory council, with lawmakers saying the worsening opioid crisis has led to a breakdown of families and a lack of resources for those in need.
A kinship caregiver is a relative other than a parent who provides full-time care and protection for a child. It is often a grandparent.
Kinship caregivers are different from foster care relatives and currently receive no federal or state resources, such as subsidies and caseworker support.
Rep. Kathy Crawford, R-Novi, proposed an advisory council to conduct an 18-month study on the needs of kinship caregivers. After the report is published, the council would continue to identify necessary areas of assistance.
The council would make the public more aware, help establish support groups, identify gaps in current programs and secure federal funds, Crawford said.
Cosponsors include Reps. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing; Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township; Daire Rendon, R-Lake City; Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville; Julie Calley, R-Portland; Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian; Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann; and Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids..
Though some caregivers register with the state to receive some benefits, such relationships in most families are informal, according to the Kinship Care Resource Center at Michigan State University.
Often, relatives who become responsible for children are reluctant to go through the official process of becoming foster parents because they worry they won’t meet all state requirements and are concerned Child Protective Services will take the children, according to Crawford.
Crawford said that in her 30 years of working in senior services, she has witnessed a growing need for resources for kinship caregivers.
She said changing social conditions have increased the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren.
“This has been a growing need for two decades,” Crawford said. “I’ve seen it, I’ve been in the front lines. We have generations of kids who haven’t received resources.”
She recalls one woman who went across the state to visit her daughter, only to find her incapable of caring for her two children due to addiction.
To ensure they wouldn’t become wards of the state, the grandmother took the infant and 2-year old child into her care. She needed assistance but didn’t want to register as a foster care parent because she worried she wouldn’t meet the income requirements.
“These are the kind of stories that are heart-wrenching,” Crawford said. “Most of these families are under the radar. If they say something, once they get identified, they’re worried the children will be taken away.”
Alicia Guevara Warren, the director of the Kinship Care Resource Center in the MSU School of Social Work, said relatives are generally preferable to unrelated foster parents, as studies show their responsibility minimizes trauma and keeps more siblings together.
Warren also said it’s important for children to have adult connections once they turn 18, which is something many kids coming out of foster care don’t have. Placing children with relatives is more likely to give them additional adult support.
The Kinship Care Resource Center is federally funded to help caregivers find grants and offer advice, but Crawford said Michigan should do more for caregivers.
Even with the expense of state and federal help, Crawford said kinship caregiver assistance would still cost less than supporting a child in foster care.
Both Warren and Crawford said they are grateful for increased awareness for those families.
“It’s just really refreshing to see the amount of energy and support around kinship families,” Warren said.
The bill is pending in the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee.