We have the power to make sure all kinship families thrive
Brittney Madison | NOBLE
In August 1996, my life was forever changed by this thing called “kinship care.”
I was 7 years old. My mother, who was battling drug addiction at the time, ended up in prison. My father was absent. With nowhere else to go, my two brothers and I packed our bags and moved to Ohio to live with our grandparents. I did not know what “kinship care” was. All I knew was that unlike everyone else at school who went home to their mom and dad, I went home to my grandparents. Though my grandparents never complained, I knew that we struggled. I had to overcome so many obstacles with the complexities of this arrangement. I often felt alone, like I was the only kid in the world who lived with their grandparents.
I later found out that I wasn’t alone. There are families throughout Ohio just like mine. Many of us have survived traumatic experiences due to racism and poverty. Yet, Ohio’s child welfare system further disadvantages families like mine. This has to change.
A little over two years ago, I embarked on this work with Northern Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equality (NOBLE). At NOBLE, we believe Ohio must do more to provide a minimum level of security and stability for children, older adults, families and communities of color.
During my job interview, I learned that, if offered the position, I would be working with kinship caregivers and organizing to provide more support for kinship families. When I asked for clarification on the term kinship care, I learned that kinship providers are grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other relatives who care for minor relatives because their parents are no longer able to do so, either temporarily or permanently. I realized that this was my experience.
I ended up getting the job. What I love most about my work is all the amazing kinship caregivers I have met who remind me so much of my grandparents. Through conversations with them, I’ve learned a lot more about kinship care in Ohio.
Roughly 124,000 children in Ohio share my experience. They live with relatives or trusted family friends. The research shows that when a child is taken from their biological parent, they are better able to adjust to a new living environment and less likely to experience behavioral challenges at school when they are placed with extended family, grandparents or close family friends, compared to foster care.
I also learned that the current system is unfair and inadequate. While county child welfare agencies prioritize placing children with a relative or family friend, a child placed with a relative generally receives less financial support from the state than a child placed with a licensed foster parent. This practice especially shortchanges kids in homes with kinship caregivers on a fixed income—which is the case for many grandparents, many of whom do not qualify for public support for child care. And, just like my family, children placed with kinship families are disproportionately Black with biological parents who may be dealing with addiction, incarceration, or both. As I learned more, I was comforted knowing that all this time I had not been alone, but it hurt to know that so many families in the state of Ohio are struggling like mine had.
Today, I am the lead organizer for NOBLE. We know that the current system has been shaped by state budget and policy choices — and we have the power to change it. Ohio lawmakers must prioritize kinship families and provide them with the resources they need and deserve. Kinship caregivers are so brave and deserve the utmost respect. They deserve support for the sacrifices they make for the children in their lives. That’s why we are calling on state lawmakers to ensure that approved kinship caregivers get the same level of financial support as licensed foster parents. Lawmakers must also increase the monthly OWF child-only payment to better meet the needs of tens of thousands of informal kinship families across Ohio.