Written by Cassie Price
People eagerly shared their kinship care stories at an Aug. 1 meeting at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Chesapeake, Va. Kinship care refers to the practice of relatives—often grandparents—stepping in to raise children when parents can’t. The meeting was the first of four sessions in a statewide kinship care listening tour sponsored by Voices for Virginia’s Children.
Most of the 30 participants at the Aug. 1 meeting came at the invitation of Dr. Kathy Dial, a social worker who founded Kin and Kids Consulting and specializes in gerontology, kinship care, and child welfare services. Many of her clients are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
“That evening, people shared stories about their financial struggles—how to pay for their grandchildren’s school supplies, clothes, food, and extracurricular activities,” Dial said. “They also talked about their difficulties navigating social services and the school system. What types of social services are they eligible to receive? What should they do if their grandchild has an IEP (individual education plan)?”
Their stories and questions echoed those of grandparents and other relative caregivers around the state. Virginia provides financial support and social services case management to court-appointed foster care parents, but usually not to non-parental relatives raising children.
“Some legislators justify this by saying, ‘This is a family obligation,’” Dial said. “But it’s not. Nothing says you’re obligated to care for your grandchildren or a relative’s child. People just do it—often risking financial hardship—to keep a child they love out of foster care.”
Dial shares Voices’ commitment to kinship care advocacy. “Voices educates legislators who then go back and educate their colleagues on kinship care,” she said.
She first connected to Voices in 2005 while serving on a statewide kinship care task force. Since then, she has participated in several Voices’ meetings in Richmond and has brought grandparents to Richmond and Washington, D.C., to advocate with lawmakers on behalf of kinship caregivers.
“We talked to legislators about research that points to the benefits of children being raised by grandparents rather than the foster care system,” Dial said. “Kids in kinship care can maintain contact with their siblings and extended family. Their grandparents understand their behavior and are focused on their health care and keeping them engaged in school.”
“Kathy is really connected,” said Allison Gilbreath, Voices’ adoption and foster care policy analyst. “She is on the ground with affected families and is able to connect to legislators on behalf of those families.”
Dial invites community partners to speak at regularly scheduled meetings for grandparents raising grandchildren.
“We’ve had school counselors talk to our group about study skills and IEPs, a judge discussed legal custody, a social worker covered substance abuse and addiction, and a detective from the local police department talked about how to protect children from risky cellphone and internet usage.”
At the Aug. 1 listening session, members of Dial’s group told Gilbreath and Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, they want to advocate alongside Voices and Brewer with state legislators.
In 2018, Voices celebrated a win when the General Assembly created the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program. Although it affects only a small number of children, it is a first step in kinship care reforms, Gilbreath said. She will use what she learned on her statewide listening tour to draft a kinship care policy brief later this fall.
She’ll have a powerful ally in Dial when it comes time to advocate for kinship care reforms.
Voices for Virginia’s Children’s Kinship Care report is on the way soon.Read More Blog Posts