Kinship care programs in crisis

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 4/3/2012, 1:40 p.m.

Grandparents caring for their grandchildren and their supporters rallied on Monday in Albany, imploring state legislators to restore funding for programs that support kinship care.

This year's proposed budget will cut more than $450,000 from kinship care programs, leaving about $500,000 in annual funding. This comes on the heels of last year's cuts. Three years ago, these programs were funded at $3 million. The programs themselves have been reduced statewide from 21 to eight, with community resources being forced to close their doors or drastically reduce their services--and there's more to come.

Approximately 250,000 children across New York State are currently being raised by a grandparent or other family member. This is due to a host of reasons including military service, incarceration, physical or mental illness, abuse, a parent having to relocate or other conditions that make them unable to care for their children. Most often, a grandparent steps in.

Kinship programs provide crucial services to these caregivers while keeping children out of foster care, saving the state millions of dollars annually. These programs cost less than $500 a year per child as opposed to foster care, which costs $22,000 a year per child.

Facing devastating service cuts is PSS/WSF Grandparent Family Apartments in the South Bronx. This is the only residence of its kind, providing housing and crucial services to grandparents and their grandchildren in New York State. The facility is set to lose all of its programs by June of this year unless funding is restored.

Rimas Jasin, executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services (PSS), spoke about the one-of-a-kind residence. "In 2005, PSS and its partner agency, the Westside Federation, built the first building specifically for grandparents raising their grandchildren. To date, it is the only one of its kind in the entire state of New York, and it's really the only residence of its kind in the country that offers the types of programs that it does," Jasin said.

"There are caseworkers onsite, support groups, training and educational programs, with assistance in helping them apply for benefits and navigating the system. There are programs for the 100 children living in the building. Every day they can take advantage of our after-school program. In the summer there is a camp program. The whole idea is that by keeping the children focused, academically successful and on target, we're going to help the family succeed and grow.

"That program and this unique residence are in crisis. Because of funding cuts, all those services will end this summer unless the funding for kinship care is restored. This model not only is able to maintain these families and keep them together, but it saves the state dollars by preventing unnecessary foster placement. We need to make sure that this successful model, this nationally recognized program, is saved. That will happen only if kinship care funding is restored to the 2009-2010 levels," said Jasin.

Where does the money go? For fiscal year 2011-12, the state spent more than $1 billion on out-of-home care and less than $1 million on kinship care. The families most in need of these programs are also the poorest, with 22 percent of them falling below the poverty level. The $3 million needed to support 250,000 children under kinship care is the same annual cost as supporting 135 children in the foster care system.