Critics say kinship care bill doesn’t go far enough

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – An Upstate mother and her allies said Wednesday they are glad that kinship families are getting the attention they deserve with the state legislature but wanted to set the record straight on exactly how many children living in kinship care will benefit from a bill now in the State House.

The kinship care bill sits in the House after passing through the Senate with promises of bringing financial support to thousands of caregivers.

That support would come in the form of the same money foster care families receive to help care for children in state protective custody.

Advocates said that bill will only impact a fraction of the kids it aims to help.

The statistic supporters of the bill have been using is 74,000 children currently living in kinship care home. That means they’re being cared for by grandparents, uncles and aunts, step-parents, and close family friends after stepping in to remove the children from homes with addiction, abuse, and neglect.

Some cases of kinship care involve the Department of Social Services but officials who help kinship care families in South Carolina said the vast majority of them do not. 

For example, people who stepped in to keep children together and out of protective custody. 

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Katrina Shealy of Lexington (R) said Wednesday the bill will help them just like people who register and become licensed foster parents. 

But, some said, the bill leaves far too many families out.

Four years ago, Sara Wallace of Greenville got a call from social services that would forever change her family dynamic.

“They told us that the kids were gonna be put up for adoption if somebody in the family didn’t step up,” said Wallace.

She and her husband stepped up and became kinship caregiver for her nieces and nephews who had been living with foster families for about one year.

“We received custody of five of my sisters kids and added them to our four,” said Wallace.

Growing their family from four children to nine children took an emotional and financial toll.

“The hope was that there would be programs, benefits, resources for these kids to support them through the trauma they had been through, she said.

Wallace said navigating the complicated process of finding help yielded nothing.

She said the help promised in the kinship care bill won’t affect families like hers either.

“It’s only going to cover a minority of families,” Wallace said.

Kim Clifton, director of the only non-profit in the state of South Carolina helping kinship families agreed.

“The majority of the children end up in kinship care informally, meaning they don’t get taken into protective custody,” said Clifton.

Clifton said she applauds the bill Shealy co-sponsored that would expands the definition of kinship providers to close family friends but said it’s not enough.

“Unfortunately, Sen. Shealy’s bill, as well as another passed last year to inform kinship caregivers of their right to become licensed kinship foster families only applies to a very small fraction of situations in which DSS places kinship families in each year. The greater majority of kinship families will not have the option to become licensed or receive a stipend, or any other financial aid,” Clifton said.

“SCDSS practices diversion – if a relative steps in before a child has to be placed in protective custody, they will not have the option to become a licensed kinship caregiver. For every one child placed in foster care, 20 are placed in the home of a relative. When these relatives step in first, they are not able to become licensed kinship foster parents. They must take the children from protective custody to have that option,” added Clifton. 

“Sen. Shealy’s bill is an important step in garnering recognition for the role that kinship caregivers play, unfortunately, it will not apply to most kinship families and certainly not the 74,000 children already in kinship care,” said Clifton.

Shealy told 7News Wednesday over the phone from her State House office that the bill reads if a kinship provider isn’t already a licensed caregiver they will be able to start the process and that’s where the money and other support becomes available.

Clifton added that will only happen if it’s communicated to these parents on a local level with the county case workers laying out all the options. That’s something, Clifton said, is not necessarily happening.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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