By Stephanie Ludwig
With the budget agreement nearly on the table, the proposed California budget cuts will put even more pressure on grandparents and other relatives who are caring for children that would otherwise be placed in the foster care system.
As The Chronicle for Social Change previously reported, a Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) trailer bill would to the 2012-13 budget would suspend an affidavit program that allows relative caregivers of children to enroll the children in school. The Department of Finance says the Caregiver Affidavit Program costs $584,123.20 a year, while advocates contend it saves the state court and other costs that could run much higher.
Jamila McCallum, director of kinship services for Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Mateo County, explains that what is currently a single piece of paper gives caregivers the ability to forgo the lengthy guardianship process, which takes six months in the best of cases. Without the affidavit, relative caregivers cannot enroll the child in the caregiver’s school district.
If the guardianship is contested, the family could be in court for up to a year. “Imagine, the child will be missing six-plus months of education and what is the caregiver supposed to do if they need to work?” McCallum said. “They might not have child care or a network of support.”
According to the Stepping Up for Kids report released last month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center, there are currently 333,000 children in kinship care in California and 4 percent of all children nationally are living with a relative caregiver.
The report also shows that while the national average monthly cost of caring for a child is $990, caregivers who qualify as foster parents can receive $511, while families who do not qualify as foster parents are eligible for just $249 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
Caregivers who may be on fixed incomes or have medical problems are left picking up the slack.
TANF benefits are one of the only funds available to kinship caregivers, however nationally, only 12 percent of kinship care families receive these benefits. In San Mateo County, only about 20 percent of caregivers are receiving TANF services according to McCallum.
One part of the problem, says Annie E. Casey Foundation Director of Family Services and Systems Policy Rob Geen, is accessibility. Caregivers may not be aware they’re eligible for TANF or if they are aware, eligibility workers may deny the caretaker funds under the mistaken belief that relative caregivers are not eligible.
McCallum adds that many of these families may not apply because of pride.
“Our caregivers span a large socioeconomic gap,” McCallum said. “They may feel ashamed to apply even though they may be in need of the funds. There are some of our caregivers who have never had to access social services in their lives.”
If caregivers manage to overcome these obstacles they still may not be able to access these funds as Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget will cut $2 billion from programs like TANF and California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS).
“I think there are people that will say, ‘How can we afford to support kin better?’” says Geen. “I say, ‘How can we afford not to?’ Taking steps to ask kin to pay more for these kids is as step in the wrong direction, and taxpayers will end up paying considerably more as a result.”