All but unnoticed in news coverage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed on Thursday is $10 million to start up a technical assistance center to help relative caregivers who step up to fill in for parents whose children have been taken away from them.
While $10 million is a tiny fraction of the massive spending bill, it marks the culmination of a 20-year effort by the nonprofit Generations United to get the government to provide comprehensive services and supports to grandparents who in many cases never anticipated having to spend their limited time, money and energy raising their children’s children.
In a statement, Generations United said it was “thrilled” that the National Technical Assistance Center on Grandfamilies and Kinship Care would allow caregivers to tackle the triple-whammy impact of the opioid epidemic, the coronavirus pandemic and generations of racial inequality.
The money will be available for spending through 2025, to be administered by the Administration for Community Living at the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency will almost certainly contract for an organization to operate the center, which will provide training, technical assistance and resources to government programs and nonprofit and other community-based organizations, including Native American groups.
The center will work with experts to identify and promote the best ways to help caregivers, children and their parents, grandfamilies and kinship families, as well as family friends, regarding physical and mental health (including substance use treatment), education, nutrition, housing, financial needs, legal issues, disability self-determination, caregiver support and other issues.
In recent years, the primary goal of the child welfare system has been to keep children at risk of abuse or neglect in their birth parents’ home if it’s deemed safe to do so, and to use various forms of kinship care to keep family bonds intact if the child must be removed. Under this system, foster care is to be used as a last resort. Backers say the new center’s mission would support those goals.
Generations United, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group that seeks to build connections between people of different ages, credited Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Bob Casey, Patty Murray and Ron Wyden, as well as Reps. Danny Davis, Richard Neal and Bobby Scott for pushing for the money to create the National Technical Assistance Center on Grandfamilies and Kinship Care.
Whatever organization is chosen to oversee the national center, it will likely forge strong ties to the hundreds of smaller, local networks that support kin caregivers around the country. Some of those groups are known as kinship navigators, community-based one-stop shops that help connect relatives with available benefits and supports, respite care and other assistance.
The American Rescue Plan Act offers 100% federal funding for those centers through September of 2021, and the recently passed Family First Prevention Services Act offers a 50-50 split in future years for navigator programs. But the match is only available for programs that operated a model that has been approved by the federal Prevention Services Clearinghouse, which thus far has not signed off on a single navigator candidate.
Assuming a navigator model does pass the test – Youth Services insider has heard Washington State’s has a good chance – this new national center could be instrumental in helping other navigators around the country adapt it, or any other models that got approved.