New nonprofit center helps children in the care of relatives

When Ali Caliendo was working with the State of Nevada to help families deal with trauma, she met a woman caring for four children. The woman – their great-aunt – had stepped in to help when the children’s mother was killed and their father was incarcerated.

At first, the carer did not apply for financial assistance from the state. But when she did, the state threatened to take the children away from her, assuming she was no longer able to raise them.

It is not uncommon for relatives to raise children who no longer have parents capable of caring for them. More than 2.6 million children in the United States are raised by what are often called grandfamilies or kinship families. A report from the association United generations found that although Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Blacks make up 15% of the U.S. population, they make up 33% of large families. This is much higher than the rate for white children.

“I was blown away by the number of children living in family homes,” Caliendo said.

“While I was working with these children,” she added, “I had a lot of conversations with the caregivers, and there were so many important questions that none of the professionals they were working with answered. so started looking for answers to their questions, and that’s when I started to discover that there were a whole bunch of gaps in terms of the information available.

In response to the need, Caliendo founded a non-profit organization to help parents raise their loved ones. It is part of a network of programs called kinship browsers. Since 2018, the Social Security Act has provided approximately $20 million each year to develop, operate, and evaluate such programs across the United States. Every state, Washington, DC and 11 Indian tribal organizations received funding for kinship programs in 2021, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Public child protection systems are often alerted when children cannot be cared for by their parents. The state can arrange for children to live with relatives or with foster families. Generations United have championed the idea that living as a family is best.

Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, which has an annual budget of $4 million, said the nonprofit has spent 20 years asking for more federal money to help loved ones recover. take care of children.

Then, in 2021, he received $10 million from the American Rescue Plan, the federal emergency funding plan set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. He used the money to start a national center to help nonprofits, agencies and other groups that work with grandparents access help.

The National Large Families and Related Families Technical Assistance Center has gathered information from groups in every state and is developing a plan to help those on the front lines help families navigate a complex web of organizations. and agencies. Staff at the new center will answer questions from families and family representatives.

Ana Beltran, the center’s executive director, said center staff spoke with nonprofits and other groups in every state. They learned that families need more effective ways to access resources offered by nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The center has partnered with experts and five national nonprofits who will share resources with each other, such as hosting a webinar on how to work together.

Connect with nonprofit organizations

The Help Center will help families find nonprofit organizations such as Foster Kinship, a program founded and operated by Caliendo in Nevada.

Caliendo said kinship navigator programs help families get legal, financial, health and housing information, and other resources. Nonprofit programs can also help by sharing their expertise and offering guidance to similar programs in other states.

In Nevada, from 2019 to 2021, 25,000 children were in the care of a parent, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Number of Children Data Center. But some people aren’t aware of navigation programs, Caliendo said.

Other nonprofit organizations across the United States are working with the new assistance center, including those serving the needs of Black and Native American families.

Karyn Jones, CEO of the nonprofit National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, said it’s not unusual for grandparents to be the sole providers for their grandchildren. But there aren’t enough resources to help them navigate the child welfare system to get what they need. Through this partnership, the Center on Black Aging aims to increase awareness of its programs and ensure that the voices of related families are heard.

“There are a lot of things out there that [Black people] just don’t enjoy it,” she said. “And it’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because we don’t feel welcome. We don’t see it or we don’t know it or we don’t think we qualify. »

Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, works with many Native American extended families. Relatives usually intervene instead of letting the children be placed in the child protection system.

Kastelic says that in most native languages ​​there is no word for “orphan” because living with extended family is a big part of the culture. Children are a shared responsibility, she said.

When children have been removed from their families, the association tries to mitigate the impact of this removal. The foster care system can do a lot of damage, Kastelic said. And the work of the association proves that the best way to stabilize the situation is family support.

Generations United reports that children do better living with family members compared to non-parents. They have increased stability, better behavioral and mental health, and a greater likelihood of preserving their cultural identity.

The association brings to the partnership relationships with 574 federally recognized tribes across the country, said Kastelic, who serves on Generations United’s board of directors. She said the association’s role in the partnership helps extend the benefits of the center to the tribes.

“This is a real opportunity for tribes to think about the variety of services that caregivers need and how to better coordinate those services so that when children need a placement outside of their home, their loved ones can take care of them,” she said.

Beltran said she noticed the child welfare system was working harder to place children with relatives than 10 years ago. Federal and state policies now emphasize the importance of this practice.

Butts of Generations United said funders and other donors continue to offer financial support even though the center receives federal funding.

She said it’s important to communicate that while the government has met a need, the nonprofit and those working to directly help families still need more financial support.

“We hope the center will be able to really engage and compel people and philanthropists to understand that investing in these families is worth it,” she said.

Reporting for this article was funded by a Lilly Endowment grant to improve public understanding of philanthropy. Learn more about the grant and our gift acceptance policy.

Virginia S. Braud