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Gray Matters

Kinship Care a lifesaver for grandparents, families in the program

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MANSFIELD -- Christie Core's life changed just 11 days after the birth of her fourth grandchild.

"She tested dirty," Core said. "They did the little cotton ball in the diaper and shortly after they came home, Children Services came."

Core, 51, said the diaper tests showed traces of methamphetamine. In turn, the baby's parents lost their rights to parenting their children.

"It was crushing," Core said.

What should have been one of the happiest days of her life now meant she would be the one to raise the infant and her three adolescent sisters. The youngest suffered from the drug use. She has a hole in her heart and clubbed feet, Core said.

Core was granted temporary custody on Aug. 9, 2016. She now has permanent custody of the children.

According to the 2015 U.S. census, 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for basic needs of one or more grandchild. In Ohio, there are 100,667 grandparent caregivers, according to the 2017 Public Children Services Association of Ohio Factbook.

In Richland County, 1,174 grandparents are raising grandchildren.

For Core and her husband, the nightmare left her worried financially.

"We were good with the income when it was just (my husband and 17-year-old son)," she said. "Now there are seven of us I have to feed and clothe. I thought, 'what am I going to do?' The baby was 11 days old, the others were 3-, 8- and 9-(years-old). I was 48."

Core admitted her retirement plans had been canceled, too.

"We were planning on getting the business established (Nurturing Hearts, an in-home care business she co-owns with her sister) and we were going to move to Alabama. Obviously that has changed."

Instead of southern living, Core now faces 18 more years of parenting. 

"Oh, it's horrible," she said, laughing. "It's non-stop laundry. Non-stop cooking. Non-stop homework. Freedom in general (is gone) ... Anything I want to do I have to find a babysitter. Even for work. I now have to pay money to go to work."

Fortunately, Core said, she found the Kinship Care program with Richland County Children Services.

Tim Harless

Tim Harless is the director of community outreach and programming at Richland County Children Services. His duties include oversight of the local Kinship Care program.

Tim Harless, director of community outreach and programming at RCCS, said the Kinship Care program is a temporary or permanent arrangement in which a relative or non-related adult who has a long-standing relationship with the child assumes care for a child of a parent who is unwilling or unable.

Children Services had a social worker reach out to Core and offer agency services. Those services include Christmas programs and other holiday help, vouchers for clothes and financial help. They also call to check on families, she said.

"I absolutely wouldn't be successful without them," Core said. "Being in Kinship is sometimes a hardship."

Brianna Kindinger, the Kinship Navigator who works to support Core and her family, said the Mansfield community has numerous programs that can help caretakers in need of assistance.

"There are so many resources in the community," she said. "If I can't help, we work to find other organizations in Mansfield who can."

Core said the aid provided by the program helps tremendously to reduce the financial and emotional stress of her new, unplanned life.

One of the financial aids that helps Kinship Care providers is the Kinship Permanency Incentive, a stipend available every six months for legal guardians. The stipend gives a certain amount of money for each child, Kindger said.

Monthly benefits can be found from Jobs and Family Services for Kinship Care.

Harless added Kinship Care benefits the children, too.

"Children who have been displaced due to their parents being unable to care for them do better when they grow up in a familiar environment," he said.

Core said her granddaughters rely on each other. If they were in foster homes, or separated, they couldn't be nearly as successful. She added that the girls are able to visit their parents regularly, something that may not be possible if they were in foster homes.

Harless added those who live in Kinship Care are more likely to have higher school attendance, better grades and fewer community problems than those in foster homes.

"Kids actually do better with people they are familiar with, it seems pretty obvious to me," Harless said. "If I can place them with an aunt, uncle, brother or sister or even fictive kin -- people who aren't related, but have built a relationship with those kids, they do better than they would in a regular foster home."

Richland County Children Services logo

In Richland County, there are between 700 and 1,000 children being cared for through the Kinship Care program, Harless said. The majority of those caretakers involved are grandparents.

"What is scary is they are older individuals on a fixed income. Over 60 percent are 55 and older and are retired or planned on retiring and are now bringing grand-kids into their home. It does affect a lot of our older folks," he said.

"Here's how resilient they are: They tell me all the time, even if you didn't have the kinship program, we'd still do it. Because it's our family. We would do this anyway. The kinship program is a benefit and blessing to us. You help us when we need assistance, but we'd being doing this anyway.

"They were planning a retirement, but now they are bringing in kids to their home. It does affect them."

Core said there was no doubt in her mind she'd have taken in her grandchildren.

The Kinship Care program provides her with enough help to give her a foothold on this new stage of life.

"Knowing the (children) have stability in their life; knowing there is going to be a meal, somebody they can rely on," Harless said. "It makes a difference. I think the thing is we have so many kids being affected by the opioid and drug addiction and problems like that and people not making a decent wage."

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.