COLUMBUS, Ohio - Thousands of Ohio children are spending their holidays in the care of relatives. While kinship caregivers can be a blessing for families in crisis, these caregivers often are burdened with unplanned expenses.
When children cannot remain safely at home with their parent or caregiver, kinship-care placements allow the child to stay with someone they know rather than in the foster-care system. These caregivers often are thrust into the situation and cover the costs of raising a child.
Kara Weill of Medina, who is caring for her stepson's three young children, said food, clothing and child care can add up.
"The little money that I get really is just a little drop in the bucket for what we have to put out for these children," she said. "We want to be there and do the right thing, but at the same time it is a hardship on my family and I don't think people really realize what some people are actually going through."
Weill gets some assistance through the Kinship Child Care Program, which helps low-income kinship caregivers defray the cost of child care. The state's biennial budget appropriates $15 million for the program. It was implemented in May, and in the current fiscal year, $383,000 has been spent so far on nearly 153 families who qualified for assistance. Kinship caregivers can contact their county children's services agency to learn about the application process.
Jeff Felton, director of the Medina County Department of Job and Family Services, said child care can run $900 a month on average for just one child. He said it's a cost many kinship caregivers have to cover because they work and earn too much to qualify for assistance.
"Most of our kin providers are earning more than $36,000 a year for a family of three," he said. "Forty percent of our children, so roughly 30 children, are placed with relatives, and I've had three families qualify for the Kinship Child Care Program; everybody else makes too much money."
Kinship providers must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for child-care assistance. Felton noted that if signed by Gov. John Kasich, House Bill 541 would provide flexibility to the child-care program so that more kin-care providers of higher incomes can qualify.
"We think it's a worthwhile investment because it keeps children with people they know," Felton said. "We're asking these grandparents and other kin to step up and care for their related children, and we say thank you, and you're kind of on your own. And we create poverty that way; we create a lot of financial strain."
In Ohio, at least 113,000 children are living with an extended family member in kinship care.
The text of HB 541 is online at search-prod.lis.state.oh.us.