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Norma Hatfield: My heart aches for the children as kinship families wait for a champion in Kentucky

I recently spoke to a legislative committee about Kinship Care. As I sat at the table during the hearing, my heart was hurting for so many kinship families in Kentucky who are in serious need and seem to be forgotten. There are many kids in Kinship Care who’ve been abused, neglected and removed from their homes and placed with family or close family friends other than their parents.

In a moment’s notice, grandparents and others find themselves in a predicament because while the kids are placed with family, they’re also penalized with less resources because they are with family. Oftentimes, kinship caregivers drain their savings; potentially having to rely on the system later.

Norma Hatfield (Photo by Becca Owsley/The News-Enterprise)

There is an old phrase, “Rob Peter to pay Paul.” That’s what we’re doing. There are so many gaps in the system that affect caregivers who are trying to keep traumatized kids out of foster care. Trying to feed, clothe and house kids long term and avoid poverty that threatens to put them on the streets. Studies show that children do better by being placed with someone they know and trust but sadly, the investments towards these kids are still lacking.

Nationwide, there are over 2.5 million children in Kinship Care and 25% of them are living with grandparents that struggle with food insecurity. Here in Kentucky, there are approximately 58,000 kids living with grandparents.
So what needs to happen? We need legislative champions to step up to lead a study on kinship needs today and work towards better options. We need the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) to work with the task force and solve this problem; let’s look at what’s already available at both state and federal levels; determine additional needs and get to solutions. Then collectively in a bi-partisan, practical and compassionate way, fight for it.

Let’s stop watching thousands of kinship caregivers annually drain what they have and the cycle continue. Let’s not allow these struggles to continue just because it’s complicated, confusing and might cost money. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.

My kinship ‘needs list’ that was reviewed at the committee hearing was realistic but probably too long for some. I think the initial reaction was that there’s no room in a budget that has many claims on it. However, the needs are still there; the children and issues still important. Let’s do more than dismiss it as too costly without working to get to the facts and see what we can do.

Most of us know someone who’s raising kids in Kinship Care. It’s everywhere. The opioid epidemic has claimed too many victims and continues to do so daily. I believe that the opioid situation is why we are in the top ten states for child abuse and neglect and also for the number of children being raising by grandparents.

Who is going to be the leader to change that trend? To be the leader in innovation and changing needed policies? To help others understand that Kinship Care isn’t about free handouts, but appropriate assistance and services to many who are stepping into the gap for those who have lost everything and suffered more than they should? Who is going to be the leader to roll up their sleeves and see that we do the right thing?

For Kinship Care, we need to relook how we spend our dollars and focus on data driven realistic improvements. We shouldn’t allow so many families to quietly struggle and say it’s good enough.

Let’s consider endowment funds and/or leveraging the opioid settlement funds. The kinship families are certainly victims of the opioid epidemic. We can be doing more.

We need more conversation and action. It’s only getting harder as the economy changes; it simply costs more to raise children. The system is not working like it should and someone has to be the Champion and lead the way to getting it right.

Who is the Champion? Our legislators have the power to help solve this problem. There are thousands of kinship families in Kentucky that are still waiting in the gap for a Champion.

Norma Hatfield is a grandmother who has been raising two grandchildren for the past nine years in Elizabethtown; she is President of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky and a member of the Grand Voice network with Generations United. This is reprinted from Kentucky Youth Advocates.

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