For too many Black children
in L.A., lack of support for ‘kinship’
means difficult times
One of the most important byproducts of doing the kind of work I do is that frequently I learn something. Often my eyes are opened to problems, conditions and situations I did not know existed. I learned something this week that I must hurry up and tell you about.
I learned that all the drama and media hype over the elderly Katherine Jackson’s custodial care of her three grandchildren in Calabases should be turned way down and replaced by a similar concern for the grandmas who are raising their children’s children in South Los Angeles.
I’ve always assumed that minor children are under the control of and are raised by their parents or by guardians of some sort. But I learned this week that in the state of California, in general, and in Los Angeles County in particular, guardians can either be strangers, as provided by the foster care system, or relatives — grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings — in what is known as “kinship care.” Guess which kind of care has the hardest row to hoe: Kinship Care. And guess which kind of care affects the most Black children: Kinship Care.
According to statistics released by Community Coalition, the organization that has devoted the last 12 years to serving kinship care families, African-American children are vastly over represented in and make up one of the largest groups placed with relatives through the county’s Department of Children and Family Services. Community Coalition reports that currently African-Americans make up more than 34 percent of the children in DCFS’ charge, while they comprise only 8 percent of the total county child population. Black children make up 31 percent of the children DCFS places with family members, while Latino children make up 54 percent. In Los Angeles County, more than half of the nearly 20,000 children placed in a formal foster care arrangement by the DCFS are cared for by a family member.
Children come into the care of their extended relatives for a variety of reasons: illness or death of a parent, drug addiction, incarceration or economic hardship. Even though some fostering relatives acquire their children by the formal intervention of the child welfare system, often relatives find themselves caring for their children through informal arrangements with the entire family. After all, helping raise children is a time honored tradition in both the African-American and Latino communities.
But the problem is this: Relative caregivers and the children they care for say they are not receiving the same kind or quality of services, resources and assistance the county provides to “stranger care” participants. Family caregivers are poorer, less educated and receive less government support than the system’s foster caregivers, and in order to participate in the system, they are often faced with illogical rules and regulations they cannot deal with.
For example, one woman spoke of her need of county assistance in caring for a couple of young nieces whose mother is in prison. A potential social worker told her each child has to have her own bedroom. The aunt has a low-wage job, two more mouths to feed, is lucky to reside in a two-bedroom duplex and cannot afford a larger abode, and she cannot get help because she cannot afford to get help!
Then there is the grandma whose only income is Social Security and is trying to raise her crack-addicted grandchild. She can’t get the help she needs because, upon inspection, her potential social worker noted that the temperature on her hot water was too low! Ergo, no help was forthcoming unless she bought a new hot water heater and attended to some other plumbing problems that most of us with paychecks tend to ignore.
While most of the county’s struggling relative caregivers (both Black and brown) are in South L.A., they don’t even know that — under some stringent and arcane circumstances — they may be able to get financial, medical, behavioral, social, nutritional, etc. help somewhere. They don’t know what to do or where to go because the L.A. County Kinship Resource Center is located in Culver City and most of the people in South L.A. don’t even know it exists.
On Monday, Philip Browning, the most recently-appointed director of DCFS (the third director that troubled agency has had within a nine-month period last year) agreed to meet face-to-face with relative caregivers in a town hall session at Community Coalition so they could tell him what their problems are and he could tell them what his solutions might be. The primary and most immediate solution the town hall participants wanted from Browning was the relocation of the Resource Center to South L.A. where it is needed. The county Board of Supervisors has already voted for the relocation and the town hallers wanted to know from Browning when the facility will be moved so it can help the people who need it most. Browning was evasive and did not answer the question.
I trust the relative caregivers learned something this week: If you want the answer to a question, direct it to the big dogs. Ask it of the Board of Supervisors. Never mind. I’ll do it.
1 August 2012