September 10, 2006
Commentary By ROBERT K. KILLIAN JR.
Every year I take about 300 kids away from their parents. In 90 percent of those cases, I place them with a family member, overwhelmingly a grandparent. As a state court judge, I'm ashamed at how little we do to help these grandparents. I also am frustrated because all the attention is on foster care, although kinship guardianship handles the bulk of the cases.
I don't know what family courts would do without grandparents. They're the unsung heroes of the child protection business. In Connecticut, according to the U.S. Census, more than 60,000 kids live in households headed by a grandparent. More than 20,000 of those kids are the court-appointed wards of their grandparents, their parents having been removed by a court like mine.
We hear a lot about foster care. Foster parents are good, concerned people who agree to take in a child for a monthly stipend of $740. But there are fewer than 4,200 Connecticut kids placed in foster homes in this state.
Think about this: If only 8 percent of the grandparents caring for grandkids were unable to do so, the number of children in foster care could more than double. That would create a crisis in our state, since even at current levels foster families are in short supply.
Here's the rub: Grandparents receive only $333 for the first child they take in and about $100 more for each additional child. A foster family with two foster kids gets $1,480 a month plus medical cards and a social worker. Also, amusement parks, state beaches and other places admit them for free. A grandparent with two wards receives $433 and no additional support. If they take their wards to Hammonassett, they pay.
A grandparent who takes in five grandkids - not all that unusual an occurrence - receives less than a foster family who takes in one needy child. These wonderful people, parents for the second time around, take on the responsibility out of love. But love doesn't pay bills. Often they are on fixed and very limited incomes. They often have inadequate housing. The kids, as all parents know, grow out of jeans and sneakers at an alarming rate. A quart of milk is a single gulp, and even subsidized school lunches are a financial drain.
We must do better by grandparents. In doing better by them, we do better by their grandchildren. These are kids who face all the tribulations of other young people plus the trauma of having parents who can't or won't be part of their lives. They often come with special needs, educationally, medically, socially and psychologically.
Today is the national observance of Grandparents Day. Hartford, which has a support program for grandparents, celebrated Saturday with a picnic in Bushnell Park, games, gospel music and carousel rides.
Much more should be done for these heroes. At least we name a day after them. I suppose that's a beginning.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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