SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – 7 News is taking a closer look at kinship care families.
Kinship care means extended family members raising children who cannot be cared for by their biological parents.
Many times they step up in a crisis to keep siblings together and out of the system.
According to state estimates, more than 74,000 children live in kinship care families in South Carolina.
Advocates said there’s very little help for kinship families like Haley Grau’s family in Spartanburg County.
Most new mothers have nine months to prepare. Grau had more like nine hours to get her home and her head ready for a baby and a toddler.
“It was this desperate plea from D.S.S. saying will you please take them so they don’t go into the system,” Grau explained.
She was 28-years-old and just starting out on her own when she learned a troubled member of her extended family had a baby living in a house infested with drugs.
“She was detoxing from some heavy drugs,” Grau recalls.
It was a desperate situation that grew more dire.
In the process of removing baby Gracie from the house, social workers informed Grau there was another child, a sister named Bailey who was found in another house.
Grau said Bailey was severely malnourished.
“She was 16 lbs at 2-years-old,” she said. “There’s no reason that either of them should be alive by the amount of drugs found in their systems.”
Grau had to make a decision in the midst of a crisis: separate the siblings into the foster system or take them home with her that very night.
“Of course I said yes, and so in one breath, I got a 22-month-old and a 3-month-old,” she recalled.
In that moment, Grau became a kinship caregiver. It’s not a foster parent. That means she was not eligible for assistance given to foster parents because D.S.S. technically never had custody of the kids.
“Times are hard. I mean, it got really tough,” she said.
With a $31,000 a year salary, Grau was caring for a child that needed therapies.
Both of them needed medical care.
That’s on top of the basic baby expenses, including what’s considered a big budget item for many families – childcare.
She still remembers the initial shock at the daycare.
“Oh, goodness. We’re having to pay this every week. I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my mortgage,” she said.
Grau explored becoming a licensed foster home simply to get the stipend to help make ends meet.
“It was very clearly told to me that I would have to actually put the kids into the system and then hope they get reassigned to me. There is zero guarantee and so I did not risk that,” Grau said.
Now working in social work, Grau said she knows her family situation isn’t unique.
In fact, according to the SC Department of Social Services, one in four children in South Carolina live in kinship care.
The numbers are spiking even higher due to the opioid crisis.
“You have a lot of grandparents who are on fixed incomes that can’t even afford to feed a teenager,” she said.
Despite the uphill battle, Grau sees Bailey and Gracie as miracles she never saw coming.
“We are excited because we have a bright future. They are doing so well and the sky is the limit for these girls,” she said.
Grau adopted her two girls and has full custody.
Efforts at the State House in Columbia including a Kinship Care Bill has been stirring for some time but has stalled this legislative session.
Advocates and families will rally at the State House for Kinship Care Day on Thursday, March 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.