Spotlight On

Casey and Caregivers
Work Together in Washington

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With the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351), kinship caregiving was one of many practices that benefitted from increased support and attention via the legislation. In fact, a section on "Connecting and Supporting Relative Caregivers" constitutes the first part of the law. Among other objectives, the key goal of this section of the act is implementation of "a kinship navigator program to assist caregivers in learning about, finding, and using programs and services to meet the needs of the children they are raising and their own needs, and to promote effective partnerships among public and private agencies to ensure kinship caregiver families are served."

The legislation from Washington, DC, does not give a picture of what these kinship navigator programs might look like. For that, one place to look is Washington state, where Casey Family Programs set up pilot navigator programs in Yakima and Seattle. Some of the key collaborators-- caregivers themselves--brought the discussion back to Washington, DC, with a workshop at CWLA's national conference in January.

Kristie Lund and Shirlee Garrett of Seattle, with Yakima's Julie Cruz, discuss kinship care in Washington state.

Kristie Lund and Shirlee Garrett are both from Seattle and have similar stories about looking for support and getting drawn into work with Casey. Lund, who is a case assistant with Casey as well as a caregiver, said she had been working full-time in California, but moved to Washington and became a stay-at-home mom to her grandchildren, Jasmine and Anthony. "I knew nothing about kinship caregiving when I became a kinship caregiver," she said. She could have used a navigator's help at first. She expected there would be some sort of support group that could help her find resources: "I knew there had to be something, I just didn't know what it was."

Garrett had retired at age 57, and it was several years after that when she began caring for her toddler granddaughter. "That was a shock," she said. Garrett recalled being invited to a grandparents' support group, but initially turning it down. "'I don't need those old folks,'" she remembered thinking. "How wrong was I? Very, very, very wrong." The first meeting convinced her to keep coming back--she's been attending for nearly 15 years, and now runs a weekly support group for other kinship caregivers and is on several committees at Casey. "It is truly a pleasure to be working at Casey, doing things for the grandkids. It is truly a blessing," Garrett said. Lund said the same: "I love working with kinship caregivers."

Julie Cruz of Yakima also recalled the day she became a kinship caregiver. "My trip with my children started at a Greyhound bus," she said, "two black bags of clothing, and six children." She had struggled to get support from the system, but said training from Casey taught her important lessons she needed to learn: "how to speak for yourself, how to advocate for others in the community." In the years since, she's been doing more than advocating--Cruz runs a clothing bank from her home, and often collects other supplies families need, including furniture. She recalled a recent trip with her five grandsons to bring a donated stove to a kinship family that couldn't afford a new one. Cruz thrives on having the opportunity to help other families like hers. "Being part of kinship is an honor and a privilege," she said.

Lyman Legters and Lynn Biggs, both senior directors at Casey, brought their perspective to the presentation as well. Legters moderated the panel and outlined some of the statistics about foster care in Washington state. Biggs mentioned the ongoing evolution of kinship care and the child welfare system's approach to it. Lately, she said, and especially in the build-up to the passage of the Fostering Connections Act, there's been more recognition that kinship care is different than foster care. She also emphasized that kinship care can be effective as a prevention strategy, keeping families together.

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children's Voice.

Honoring History

Franklin County Children Services, a CWLA member agency in Columbus, Ohio, recognized Black History Month in February by sharing the stories of two of their former employees, Colleen McMurray and Martin Burns. McMurray started work at the agency in the early 1950s, and recalls that caseloads were segregated for the first few years of her career. She had difficulty finding adoptive homes for African American children in Franklin County, and often had to place them with parents in nearby communities. Burns came to the agency in 1967, and focused on building relationships with the community. He leveraged these relationships into kinship placements throughout his career.

Helping at Home

The Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies, a CWLA member, recently sent a letter to the editor of several Ohio newspapers. It acknowledged the generosity of the citizens of Ohio in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, and thanked them for their donations, but also encouraged Ohio's residents to help children and families within the state. "A troubled economy takes victims, just like earthquakes and hurricanes. I challenge us all to match the donations we have made to disaster victims far from home with donations to help ease the impact of this economic disaster on our neighbors right next door," the letter reads.

Youth in Waiting

In the two months following the earthquake in Haiti, 1,037 children from Haiti were brought to the United States for adoption. The increasing awareness about adoption after this spike prompted CBS News to do a story on Brantwood Children's Home in Montgomery, Alabama, which hasn't had an adoption in four years. The youth at Brantwood are all older than age 10, which makes it less likely that they will find permanent homes. In an interview with CBS, Linda Spears, CWLA's Vice President for Policy and Public Affairs, confirmed that many prospective adoptive parents desire to raise a child from infancy. Find a link to the story at www.cwla.org.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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