Since 1992, the Alliance for Children’s Rights has provided free legal services and advocacy to ensure children have a safe, stable home and access to healthcare and education.
While their efforts have helped thousands of children over the last 25 years, there are always more challenges to face. One recent emphasis has been on grandparents and other older relatives assuming care for grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc. who have entered foster care, helping them access supportive services.
With The Eisner Foundation’s new emphasis on intergenerational solutions, the Alliance was able to concentrate on the unique struggles of older relative caregivers. “It was a natural transition because we had so many seniors in our caseloads,” said Janis Spire, CEO. “They’re the backbone of the foster system, but they encounter so many obstacles in caring for these children. The Eisner Foundation’s focus and support enabled us to look at them as multigenerational families and approach others out there afraid to ask for the kind of support that would enable them to care for a young child at this time in their lives.”
When an older relative becomes the primary caregiver for a child, they often struggle to access the same resources available to parents. Legal guardianship is the key to many financial services, especially when the grandparent isn’t a blood relative.
“We worked with a grandmother raising a grandson and his half-brother,” said Lara Holzman, the Alliance’s managing attorney. “Because she’s not technically biologically related to the second child, it’s been very difficult. She’s not entitled to assistance or services for him. She’s raising him as her grandchild—you couldn’t ask for a better situation for this kid. But she faced real challenges in terms of how she was regarded as his caregiver by the child welfare system.” With the Alliance’s help, this grandmother got legal guardianship and all the associated rights and benefits to care for the child.
Because grandparents often haven’t raised a child in decades, there’s also a knowledge gap for the families the Alliance serves, which is further complicated by the fact that many are low-income. The complex web of social services may have changed since they last accessed it, and computer and internet access and acumen are now necessary.
Often, these caregivers are concerned about making too many waves in trying to access services. “They’re concerned that the kids will be removed if they push too hard,” said Holzman. “There is a trust issue. In our work, we are able to speak on their behalf, and help them get what the child needs in order to thrive, without putting the burden on them to navigate a complicated child welfare system on their own.”
Advocating for a child’s education is also a common challenge. One Alliance client, Ms. Thomas, was upset when her grandson’s school failed to respond appropriately to his behavioral issues, but couldn’t figure out how to improve the situation. “I was fed up and I didn’t know what to do, and I was referred to the Alliance for Children’s Rights,” she said. “Danielle [her caseworker] was so instrumental in helping me with the situation and getting him into a better school.” Support from the Eisner Foundation allows the Alliance to provide legal representation for caregivers like Ms. Thomas in negotiating with the school district to meet the special needs of students who have been traumatized, abused, or neglected prior to entering foster care.
All of these efforts have also led to new changes to California child welfare laws. As of January 1, 2017, the state requires that kids be raised in family settings as often as possible, and that they receive supportive services, medical, behavioral, and mental health care in their family setting, rather than in group homes. To support this focus on stable family homes for all children in foster care, relative caregivers are now being approved through the same process as non-relative caregivers. But the Alliance’s work isn’t done yet—they want to make sure the new law works in favor of grandfamiles and senior caregivers.
“We’re concerned that if the process isn’t senior-friendly, we’ll have fewer foster homes rather than more,” said Spire. “We’re also concerned about the approval process—we often see children being placed first, with a long delay in approval and a lack of supportive benefits in the interim.”
As a result, the Alliance has designed a guide to help relative caregivers through the entire process of becoming approved to care for a child, paying special attention to computer literacy needs and reducing jargon.
In the end, the Alliance’s effort to stabilize intergenerational families will have far-reaching effects for the next generation. “It stands to reduce homelessness, incarceration, aging out of foster care,” Spire said. “All this could be mitigated if we can support those who step up to care for these kids.”Back to Eisner Journal Directory