Relative Caregivers Fight for their Foster Youth

imageWhen Deanne D’Antignac received the call asking if she would care for her niece, she said “yes.” The only other option was to turn her over to strangers. She did not know that the care of one niece would turn into permanent legal guardianship of three nieces and the sacrifice of her career and financial security.

Data from the Community Coalition South Los Angeles shows that D’Antignac is one of 2,500 relatives in South L.A. who take in family members, and one of 2.5 million relative caregivers nationwide. These caregivers say they do not receive the same support as other foster care providers, and have little to no preparation, guidance, or resources.

At a town hall meeting in South L.A. on February 25, relative caregivers shared their concerns with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.

The caucus is co-chaired by 33rd Congressional District Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) and Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who both participated on the Congressional panel along with Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA). South L.A. was the first stop on a national listening tour to hear from youth and families about what is working in the foster care system and what needs to be improved.

On one panel, D’Antignac shared her story and the unique struggles of relative caregivers, saying that the majority of these relatives have no warning that the next day they will become parents.

image“When I received the phone calls, I did not have time to prepare like a foster parent would. This is not a job that I applied for; and early on, I did not receive money or training for them,” said D’Antignac, who had to quit her job as a physician’s assistant to care for her three nieces.

Edgar Campos, organizer for Community Coalition South LA, estimated that about 40% of relative caregivers in South L.A. live under the federal poverty line — $23,050 for a family of four. Multiple caregivers at the meeting testified that they were forced to give up work and use their own savings and retirement funds to provide for their child.

Debra Lee, another South L.A. relative caregiver, raised two of her grandchildren and is now raising her 3-year-old great-granddaughter. She says grandparents in this economy do not have sufficient funds for raising children.

“Long gone are the days where grandma had this big old pension,” said Lee. “We don’t have that pension. I was a working grandma when I got the kids.”

Not only do relative caregivers say they struggle to find funding for their foster children, but they also lack resources and counseling necessary to learn how to obtain essential services.

“The children usually come to relative care without any resources, without any funds and with no clothes. Just the child,” said D’Antignac.

The lack of resources can leave relative caregivers searching all over the city to find the services they need for their children.

image“It took a year to get services for my granddaughter; by then, she was darn near psychotic from not having medicine [for mental illness],” said Lee.

Relative caregivers in South L.A. are advocating for hubs inside the community where formal and informal relative caregivers can go to access mental health services and other resources.

They also continue to push for representation in Congress and in the courts. As the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth continues its tour around the country, Bass says that she wants to create a national movement to help move policy along on a national level.

Relative caregivers, hoping to contribute their voices to these policy changes, ask legislators to take ownership of foster youth. Representative Marino said he hopes that he and the other 41 members of the caucus can do just that.

“We will continue to take your message, our message, to Washington to protect the most valuable resource that we have. And that is our children—all of our children—on that you have our commitment,” said Marino.

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This is a story originally posted on Intersections South LA. You can read the original posting here

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