| Nov 13, 2008

Nov 13/08 - Kinship Support

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Feature Article - November 13, 2008 Grandparents fight for government supportBy Jeff Green

Betty Cornelius is a grandmother.

She has also been the primary caregiver for the past 11.5 years of her 14-year-old granddaughter, whom she says she rescued at age 3 from a drug-addicted father and a mother with bipolar disorder.

“When I first got her she was so traumatised I could not leave her even to go to the bathroom,” Betty said.

For Cornelius' granddaughter, as for at least 9,000 other children in Ontario, the choice is between being raised as a ward of the province or by family - between foster care and kin-care.

“The results for kin-care are so much better than foster care,” Cornelius said, citing research done by Doctor Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto.

While foster families receive $1,500 per month to look after a child, family members don’t receive support, and this is something that Betty Cornelius has been fighting through CanGrands (www.cangrands.com), an organization she founded from her home in Hastings County.

However, instead of addressing these concerns, the Ministry of Social Services has instead cut the funding that they have been giving for kin-care.

Through the Ontario Works program, family members who have been able to demonstrate a need have been eligible for $237 per month, plus a drug and dental card.

This money is called a temporary care allowance by Ontario Works, but in Cornelius' case it has been coming for 11.5 years.

Starting in Hamilton in 2006, and extending to other regions, including the Kingston District, this year, the temporary care allowance is being restricted to one year. After that, families are on their own.

For members of Cangrands, it is too much to take. They have decided that the Minister of Community and Social Services, Madeleine Meilleur, who during question period at Queen's Park has described this policy as “a matter of fairness”, must be addressed.

On November 20, they will symbolically send their grandchildren back to the province for care, by delivering dolls to their local MPP. The dolls will include cards with the names, and some of the medical and psychological conditions of the children in their care.

Underlining the claims by academics and Cangrands, Children's Aid societies throughout Ontario have recently instituted a new approach to their clientele, one that encourages so-called kinship care.

“Child welfare agencies work with a child’s extended family and the community to establish a permanent home for a child in need of protection. Living with extended family or kin is sometimes the best option to ensure a child is in a safe and nurturing home,” is how kinship care is described on the provincial Children's Aid Association website.

When kinship care is initiated under the auspices of the Children's Aid, funding comes with it, but when it is taken on by families before the Children's Aid is called in, there is now only limited funding available for one year from Ontario Works.

This situation is the norm across Canada

"Typically, they [grandparents] see the child is being abused and neglected or there's something dysfunctional going on in the family," Esme Thomson-Fullerton told the CBC earlier this year. "Instead of calling in Children's Aid, they offer to pitch in and help. Or sometimes, parents ask a parent to babysit for the weekend and haven't come back six years later.

"Because of that, child welfare [services] is not involved. But the more pro-active the grandparents are, the fewer resources they can access."

Betty Cornelius says Ontario need only look to places such as Utah, in the United States, for a different model.

“What Ontario needs to do is take this away from the welfare office. They call it Ontario Works now, but I call it welfare, and establish a kinship advocacy office, which is what they have in Utah and other places,” she said. “We are mostly grandparents. We are old and we are tired and we are taking care of children. We should have help. We shouldn't have to fight the government.”

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