‘Kinship care’ foster families would get money in proposed budget

Thirteen-year-old Isaiah helps his grandmother, Carolyn Richardson, find a picture on her phone. Isaiah and his older sister Lilia are among thousands of Virginia children living with relatives outside of the state's foster care system. (Katie O'Connor/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed spending nearly $17 million over two years to help families who take in relatives’ children before they enter the foster care system.

Tens of thousands of Virginia children are being raised by relatives instead of being put into foster care. But unlike formal foster families, these kinship families don’t receive the monthly stipend and other support formal foster families receive.

With Northam’s proposal, families could begin getting financial help to take care of those children, a need that’s grown in recent years, said Allison Gilbreath of Voices for Virginia’s Children, an advocacy organization on issues affecting children.

The money can be used for food, child care and other costs.

“Even when relatives want to (take care of a child), they might not be able to afford it,” Gilbreath said. “This will help.”

Foster parents currently receive between $486 to $721 a month per child, depending on the child’s age. The families can also be reimbursed for certain costs.

It’s not clear yet if kinship families will get the same amounts.

Kinship care helps social services departments manage an already demanding workload, advocates have said.

“If someone were to pull that safety net away, child welfare would truly crumble,” Gilbreath said. “Caseloads would double and they would have such a spike in need for families that they would not be able to properly care for them all.”