Parenting reboot: Crisis is calling grandparents to action
March 8, 2018
By Shane Hoover CantonRep.com staff writer
Posted March 3, 2018
In rural counties, kinship caregiving comes with extra challenges.
Amsterdam is a village of about 400 residents on the Carroll-Jefferson county line. There's a gas station and a post office, but the nearest Walmart is half an hour away in Steubenville.
Angela Casebolt lives in a farmhouse on a quiet ridge above the village with her two granddaughters, two horses and some dogs. From the porch swing of her farmhouse, Casebolt has a view of the surrounding fields where deer and turkey are frequent visitors.
Her granddaughters go to school 20 minutes away in Carrollton, and in a couple of days, Casebolt would drive an hour to Dover so that one of the girls could have ear surgery.
Casebolt, 55, bought her home a couple of years before she got custody of her granddaughters. They've lived with her for almost a decade. The girl's father is in prison; their mother is in jail. Both have convictions for drug offenses.
Casebolt lost her other son and his fiancé to deaths linked to drug use.
"I was never brought up to live a life like that," she said. "I don't want my grandkids to have that life.."
Casebolt is one of the thousands of Ohioans who are caring for grandchildren, nieces, nephews or siblings, often because of drug use by one or both parents.
Some 124,000 children in Ohio live with a relative with no parent present, according to Grandfamilies.org, a national collaboration between the American Bar Association, Generations United and Casey Family Programs.
Kinship caregivers face emotional and financial burdens but get a fraction of the financial help given to foster parents. In Carroll County and other rural communities, a lack of nearby counseling services, daycare providers and medical clinics makes the task more challenging.
"Because of this epidemic we're facing, we absolutely need to pay attention to those caregivers who have stepped up and said, "l'll provide a home for these children," said Tim Harless, co-president of the Ohio Grandparents/Kinship Coalition.
Ohio's opioid-fueled drug crisis killed 4,050 residents in 2016 and has taxed the state's foster care system. An estimated 15,500 children - more than double the number of foster homes - are in the custody of public child services organizations often because of drug use by a parent, according to Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
Child-welfare agencies try to keep children with relatives rather than place them in foster homes. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says kinship care gives children the most stability by keeping them tied to their families'" culture and traditions, a strategy backed by research.
"What we know is that kids tend to do better when they're with family than when they're with foster care," said Kate Offenberger, director of the Carroll County Department of Job and Family Services. "The system doesn't make a very good parent."
Carroll relies on kinship care when parents no longer can care for their children because of drugs such as opioids and methamphetamine, mental health issues or abuse in the home.
As of Jan. 31, the county had protective supervision of 15 children - nearly all because of parental drug use - and 12 were living with relatives outside the home.
Another 37 children were in the custody of relatives who were getting limited financial support through the Kinship Permanency Incentive Program. The majority of those cases were due to drug use, and some caregivers sought custody before child welfare authorities were involved, Offenberger said.
Kinship care is generally best for children, but raises serious challenges for caregivers financially and emotionally.
"I never suspected that I would end up with my grandkids," Casebolt said.
She was recently divorced and trying to live a normal life when she received custody of her grandchildren a decade ago.
Drugs were an ongoing issue in the girl's home, and Casebolt reflected on the close relationship she had with her own grandmother.
"My grandmother wouldn't have let her grandchildren be in a home like that, so that's basically how I made my mind up to take my grandchildren," she said.
Penny Henry, 54, of Carrollton, made a similar decision four years ago when she got custody of her young granddaughters, who were living in an unstable home.
Henry had been working for her retirement but spent thousands of dollars on the custody case. Now, she works weekend shifts at a restaurant in addition to her job at a dental office during the week.
"You just do it," Henry said. "You just know you have to. There's bad days and good days, no doubt."
Both women get money from the Kinship Permanency Incentive Program and have state medical cards for their grandchildren. Casebolt also gets food benefits, but only because she lost her job. Other family members help the women with money or by watching the kids.
The KPI program gives qualifying families a first-time payment of $525 and $300 every six months after that, for up to 48 months. Caregivers also can apply for child-only cash assistance through Ohio Works First.
Casebolt and Henry said they use the money primarily to buy clothing for the children.
By comparison, foster families in the county get at least $25 a day, plus a medical card, a clothing voucher and transportation reimbursement.
"It's almost like the state expects us, because we're the relative, to take these children," Henry said. "I think that's very unfair because if we weren't around to do it or could not do it, they would be put into the foster system."
Going the distance
Adding to the challenges faced by caregivers like Casebolt and Henry is a lack of doctors, counselors, daycare centers and transportation in rural areas.
Childcare is expensive - the public rate for a preschooler is more than $100 a week - and scarce. The two licensed childcare providers that take publicly funded children are both in Malvern, on the northern edge of the county, Offenberger said.
Children coming from traumatic situations also need counseling, but Carroll doesn't have as many specialists as larger Stark or Tuscarawas counties do, Offenberger said.
Henry said she takes one of her granddaughters to weekly counseling 40 minutes away in Dover, and travels 50 miles to Akron for other appointments once a month. Her employer gives her time off for appointments, but working fewer hours means a smaller paycheck.
"That's the part that people don't get," Henry said. "I have a full-time job. I'm not a grandma that is at home."
Casebolt found counseling closer to home for her granddaughters, but still travels an hour for medical appointments. She also is looking for work. The Carrollton factory she worked in for 17 years closed in November, and Casebolt has been seeking jobs from Navarre to Steubenville, looking for work that matches her granddaughters' schedules.
"There's not much around here," she said.
The only way a kinship caregiver can get the same assistance as a foster parent is to become a foster parent or adopt the child, a step many donâ€™t want to take, said Harless, who is director of community outreach and programming for the Children Services Board of Richland County, in addition to his advocacy with The Ohio Grandparents/Kinship Coalition.
Becoming a foster parent means taking more time to attend classes and many kinship caregivers hope their role is only temporary, he said.
"They're saying, "If you trusted us to place the kids with us, why can't you find a way to help us out?" Harless said.
The answer comes down to money. State government provided 10 percent of the $938 million spent on children services in Ohio in 2016, while more than half of the money came from local government funds and levies, according to PCSAO.
In the latest state budget lawmakers earmarked an additional $15 million for kinship care, but the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has yet to decide how to distribute the money.
"$15 million sounds like a lot of money," Harless said. "It's not. It can go quickly."
Another bill introduced in the Ohio House would create kinship navigator hubs around the state. Larger counties would host a hub and help smaller surrounding counties find resources for caregivers, said Harless, who estimated only five of Ohio's 88 counties currently have kinship navigators.
"They're going to have to figure it out," Harless said of lawmakers, "because let's say 10 percent of those caregivers say, ' I don't want to do this anymore. I financially can't do this, or I can't travel or I'm working.' It would be devastating to child welfare and it would be devastating to some of our child-welfare agencies. We'd have to bring those kids into custody."
Supporting each other
In January, the Carroll County Department of Job and Family Services revived its support group for kinship caregivers. Personal and Family Counseling Services in New Philadelphia, part of OhioGuidestone, organizes the meetings.
The support group meets twice a month. One night focuses on topics such as nutrition, counseling and legal advice. The other night is an event to promote family bonds, such as bowling, cookouts, movie night or tickets to the county fair.
"Especially if it's grandparents, they're living on a fixed income," said Pamela Trimmer, executive director of Personal and Family Counseling. "They don't really have the money to go do some of these things."
Caregivers also have the chance to bond with each other and form support networks.
They commiserate over homework - "I am not a stupid person, but by golly when you got to YouTube some homework, that is not a good thing," Henry said - to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one to addiction - ”It was a big loss, but I've gotten through it," Casebolt said. "Not totally because I don't think it will ever go away."
The caregivers also share their joys.
Casebolt had a quick answer when asked what was the biggest reward of parenting her granddaughters.
"Their love," she said.
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