Relatives Raising Children Face Unique Challenges

Imagine a knock on the front door at night. Outside is a police officer, bringing a child to the safe-haven of a grandparent’s home. A grandparent might experience fear and confusion, trying to reconcile what has happened in the family and how to support the child. This is how a journey toward kinship care can begin.

May is Kinship Awareness Month, an opportunity to acknowledge relatives other than parents raising children. Nearly 50,000 family members in Washington are kinship caregivers. Many of the children in their care have experienced trauma and need special education or uniquely designed physical- or mental-health services.

Relatives who provide kinship care can qualify for state support. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) provides a resource guide about kinship care that includes information about benefits and services, health care, legal issues and more. DSHS manages the kinship program as part of its Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA).

Reasons that relatives other than parents raise children vary. Some family members are granted custody by courts involved in the child welfare system. In other circumstances, law enforcement places children with relatives after finding parents unfit. Parents may have died, or a relative may have intervened because of issues related to addiction or abuse. Some kinship caregivers are meeting a grandchild, niece, or nephew for the first time when that child needs a new home.

A child might arrive without any possessions. The financial cost and life disruption can significantly impact the relative providing kinship care. In Washington, the Kinship Navigator program can help. This program was adopted by the state in 2003.  

A Kinship Navigator can direct family caregivers to a variety of community resources related to healthcare, finances, legal services, support groups, training, child care and emergency funds. Kinship Navigators also can explain how to apply for federal and state benefits. The Kinship Navigator helps families establish or maintain greater self-sufficiency and long-term stability, often with a goal to keep children out of foster care.

A navigator can help family caregivers get involved with support groups and learn to balance the needs of the child with a potentially complicated relationship with the child’s parents. Daycare options can be located, and children might gain access to recreational and social activities to help them find belonging in a new life circumstance.

In spring 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5641 to create a statewide kinship care legal aid coordinator. The state budget was expanded to include $500,000 for growth of the Kinship Care Support Program and $468,000 to fund Tribal Navigators for Native American families. One of the bill’s supporters was Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who in 2002 helped create a statewide Kinship Care Oversight Committee that led to development of the state’s kinship programming.

The Seattle Times published an article Dec. 28, 2018, about kinship care and reimbursement rates in comparison to foster care. According to the Times, about 43,000 relatives other than parents are raising children in Washington State. More than 90 percent of those caregivers are grandparents. The article includes data that most families choose not to become legal foster parents because of state scrutiny over the welfare system. Informal kinship-care arrangements are four times more common than formal foster care.

Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, collects data about government costs and savings related to kinship care. The agency coordinates projects to strengthen intergenerational connections and offers ways for families to advocate for system improvements to benefit children, youth and older adults.

The Military Parent Technical Assistance Center, The Branch, provides specific guidance about benefits and other issues that impact short- and long-term kinship caregivers in military families.

Washington State Offers a New Option for Employment and Housing Support

Employment and housing can be critical to good health, and the State of Washington has recognized that more supports are needed in these key areas. In January 2018, the state launched a new program to support individuals with complex care needs because of physical or mental impairments by helping them to find and keep jobs and homes. 

The pilot project provides housing and employment supports to individuals who qualify to receive them. The program doesn’t pay the rent or subsidize a job but rather offers counseling and resource navigation help so that individuals can maintain relationships and stabilize in their work and home circumstances. The program is available to persons 16 and older, who are Medicaid eligible and meet the criteria for the program. This may include students transitioning from high school into adulthood. 

“This program is open to a new population,” says Krystal Baumann, an employment program manager for Region 2 in the northwestern part of the state. Bauman says the new initiative may share referrals with the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) but is a separate program that offers unique services for individuals who may not qualify for supports through DDA or DVR. These new services cannot duplicate other state and federal programs, so individuals already receiving supports may need to choose which service or agency best suits their needs. 

The pilot program is part of the Healthier Washington Medicaid Transformation led by the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA) in conjunction with the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA) and Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). A multi-tiered effort to transform Medicaid services to address social factors that contribute to lifelong health challenges, Healthier Washington includes multiple phases being introduced over a five-year period in what has been called the Medicaid Transformation Demonstration. 

“The purpose of transforming Medicaid is to build an integrated, whole-person health care delivery system,” the HCA states. “The success of this effort will provide Washington State with definitive evidence that better health, better care, and lower costs are possible, now and in the future.” 

The new project that targets housing and employment comprises Foundational Community Supports (FCS)—also called Initiative 3.   “FCS providers can play a critical role in achieving better health, better care and stronger communities,” organizers conclude in an HCA FAQ sheet released in December.  

Supported housing services are designed for people who experience: 

  • Chronic homelessness 
  • Frequent or lengthy institutional contacts 
  • Frequent or lengthy stays in adult residential care 
  • Frequent turn-over of in-home caregivers 
  • PRISM (Predictive Risk Information SysteM) score 1.5 or higher 

Housing supports are ongoing to help people find and maintain stable, independent living. Services include: 

  • Housing assessments 
  • Identifying housing resources 
  • Support for obtaining a lease 
  • Independent living skills development 
  • Crisis management 

Supported employment services target: 

Employment supports can help people find jobs (in competitive, customized or self-employment settings) and gain the skills to succeed. Services include: 

  • Vocational/job-related discovery or assessment 
  • Planning for employment 
  • Job placement, development, coaching 
  • Skill-building for negotiating with prospective employers 

Eligibility is determined using a variety of tools and factors. DSHS recommends that families and individuals reach out with their questions to determine whether they might qualify and benefit from this new program.  

Families and individuals can reach out directly to Amerigroup Washington, the Foundational Community Services Third-Party Administrator by calling 844-451-2828 or emailing FCSTPA@amerigroup.com. 

If you are a customer of Home and Community Services (HCS) or the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), you may qualify for Supported Employment services under FCS. ALTSA has designated Supported Employment staff positioned throughout the state that are assisting with ALTSA specific referrals.  

Region 1 (Eastern Washington) Jim Bischoff: 509-585-8073, BISCHJ@dshs.wa.gov 

Region 2 (Northwest) Krystal Baumann: 360-522-2363, SmithKA1@dshs.wa.gov 

Region 3: (Southwest) Vicki Gilleg: 360-870-4918, GILLEV@dshs.wa.gov 

ALTSA HQ: Mike Corcoran: 360-725-2561, Michael.Corcoran@dshs.wa.gov 

 Amerigroup.com 

Amerigroup – Washington Foundation Community Supports