Thousands of WA grandparents are raising kids – and they need more help


If this country really cared about protecting the lives of children, Barb Taylor would be out of a job and grandmothers like Ollie Reeves would never care how to feed the children in their care.

But this is not the case.

Instead, Taylor and his team at Catholic Community Services Kinship Program (KPCCS) answer hundreds of calls a week from people raising a parent’s child. All are desperate for help with rent, gas, clothes or putting food on the table.

“Food insecurity is a growing concern for caregivers, and rising costs have made it even more difficult because the financial help we are able to provide doesn’t extend that far,” Taylor said, a KPCCS supervisor.

Family caregivers are parents who step in to raise a parent’s child outside of the formal foster care system, when a biological parent is dealing with substance abuse, mental illness, or other issues.

Out of 43,000 in our state, the majority are grandmothers raising their grandchildren. These seniors are one of the only things keeping our child welfare system from collapsing under the financial strain of having to support tens of thousands of children.

Well outside the two-point income bracket and relying heavily on fixed incomes like Social Security, family caregivers are struggling on the brink of economic survival due to the costs of food, clothing and healthcare. health peak due to inflation.

Imagine being 77 years old and tasked with dressing, feeding, entertaining and transporting four children, most of the time by yourself.

It’s what Ollie Reeves calls real life.

“Every time I call a place for help, they tell me they’re broke. There are times when I want to tell the state that if you can’t provide us with clothes and food, you have to come get them,” Reeves said sarcastically.

When I wrote about her 14 months ago, she was raising two of her grandchildren: Montrey, 15, and Destiny, 10. She has now added Paradise, 9, and Jasmine, 5, temporarily to her home.

“When you see people in need, you have to help them. I think that’s what God wants us all to do,” Reeves told me after I asked her why she would take on more kids.

His magnanimity could be boundless. But his economic capacity – and that of his fellow caregivers – has clear limits.

Nearly half of family caregivers live in poverty, according to a study conducted by researchers at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland.

In Washington State, caregivers have an average income between $30,000 and $39,999, according to a survey by the Ministry of Social Services and Health. It leaves them bordering on despair when it takes about $22,679 annually to raise a single child in this state, according to a study by LendingTree. Think about it as we celebrate Kinship Care Day on May 18.

To its credit, our state has steadily advanced the cause of caregivers. Prior to last year, the main financial assistance available to family carers was Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). However, the amount received was only about half that of the foster parents.

In order to ensure greater parity for caregivers already raising a loved one placed with them by the State, our Legislature adopted SB 5151 Last year. The bill created a special license making caregivers eligible for the same payments received by fully licensed foster parents.

However, the change will not impact family carers outside of the formal foster care system. Many of them still fear a system that disproportionately removes children of color from their homes.

For these caregivers, the Legislature increased the TANF amount from $363 per month to $417 for the first child, with decreasing increases for additional children.

But for people like Reeves, that’s still not enough.

“Honestly, the most [$54 a month] doesn’t help me much,” she said.

What helped were various Good Samaritans across the state who voluntarily sent checks to his family after reading about him. They helped provide Christmas gifts, hugs, football camps and school supplies.

As heartwarming as it has been, personal charity will never be enough to keep the tens of thousands of caregivers across our state from falling into poverty.

What might suffice is a guaranteed basic income (RBA). Unlike a universal basic income, the GBI is targeted to those who need it most as a poverty reduction mechanism, without any restrictions or stipulations. Far from progressive fan-fiction, it existed in Alaska since 1982 and has been piloted in San Francisco and locally in South King County.

Here, recipients received direct payments of $1,000 every month for a year and reported reduced stress, better health, and improved quality of life.

“I don’t think there’s a greater match between a need and an opportunity than with family carers and basic income, because our economy doesn’t properly value or compensate for the benefits we get from it. “said Girmay Zahilay, a member of King County Council, which launched the program.

Will it be expensive? Yes. Will there be new taxes? Yes. Is it likely to require direct involvement from our state’s largest foundations? Yes.

That leaves the ultimate question: will it be worth it?

Everything depends. How much value do you place on a child’s life?

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