Help Desk to the Rescue

Drop-In Support for Kinship Families

Most people plan for the arrival of a new baby. They may decorate a nursery, spend months discussing names, fill out an online baby registry for family and friends to visit. Many create a new budget to accommodate projected new expenses. Some people later may move to a bigger home or better school district as kids grow, and start socking away savings for college.

For kinship caregivers, however, children arrive with no advance notice.

Kinship caregivers are relatives—and family friends, in California—who agree to take in and care for children removed from their parents’ home by the county or abandoned at the hospital after birth by their parents.  They’re given very little warning, often less than a week, leaving them scant time to prepare for their suddenly expanded family. In an emergency placement, a kinship caregiver may get less than a day’s notice. They also are thrust into the very complicated, multilayered foster care system, which they must navigate in order to support the children and access resources available.

They also know that if they refuse, the child in question will be sent to live with strangers or in a group home. This is not family-by-plan. This is family-by-crisis.

“These families are heroic. They are stepping up to care for children who, through no fault of their own, are in perilous circumstances,” says Jennifer Braun, president and CEO of Alliance for Children’s Rights, a legal aid organization that assists children, young adults and families impacted by foster care. “These families are so giving and loving,” says Braun. “They have to deal with all these things they weren’t expecting.”

Help When You Need It

Soon, the Alliance will be able to offer personal assistance to kinship caregivers at a new help desk located at the Edelman Children’s court in Monterey Park, in LA County. Through a three-year, $1.9 million grant from The Change Reaction, the Alliance will hire a social worker, associate social worker, and lawyer who will hold regular weekly hours at the new help desk. As any kinship caregiver knows, crises don’t wait to be scheduled. They spring up, often needing to be addressed right away. Because of this fact, the social work and legal team will be available to provide on-the-spot, drop-in assistance for kinship caregivers, helping them navigate the legal, psychological, and material challenges of raising children suddenly under their charge. No reservation required.  Kinship caregivers also can drop in virtually, meaning already-harried new parents can seek help without having to fight LA traffic to get it.

For Carol Hubbard, a mother of four who is currently raising two grandbabies under the age of two, this help couldn’t come any sooner.  “It’s really hard to find out who to talk to, who can lead me in the right direction and give me resources that have tangible results,” she says.

Hubbard has so far turned to court-appointed lawyers for guidance, and to her pediatrician. She says the help desk could be a great place for other kinship caregivers to get support locating a good doctor.  “That’s how I learned a lot of things. She’s trauma-informed. It’s very helpful to be able to find those people.”

Hubbard’s daughter Jamika, who is living at home while completing her bachelor’s degree with a minor in childhood education at California State University, Northridge, also stresses the value of being able to obtain specific, tailored guidance for a child in one’s care, such as the trauma experienced by her youngest nephew. “You couldn’t leave him alone in the dark. He had night terrors and nightmares. I looked everywhere and didn’t find anything on what to do with a baby who has suffered trauma. It was all safe-sleeping methods. It was very challenging to figure out how to care for a baby who has been exposed to trauma.

As Wade Trimmer, president of The Change Reaction put it, “Kinship caregivers are unsung heroes in our community. They deserve our unwavering support.” The help desk is there to provide that support. 

Supporting the Whole Child and Family

Braun says she is excited about the opportunity to pair social workers with lawyers in one place because, together, they can offer a wide range of expertise. “There are so many things you don’t know about the system, childcare, and getting ready to have a child or multiple children in your household,” she says.  Social workers specialize in addressing psychological needs and in linking people to resources that can help them solve everyday challenges. For kinship families, this might include connection to healthcare professionals, health insurance providers, food support and more.

The lawyer, meanwhile, can steer families through the incredibly complex legal issues around foster care and guardianship. “Making sure they get the supports available is meaningful now and into the future,” says Braun. “Sometimes, making sure someone has life insurance is making a life-changing difference. Or, if someone needs a transplant or needs speech therapy.” The help desk is there to steer families toward the resources they need and to advocate for them.

The Alliance is pairing TCR funding with another grant it received from the California State Bar’s Office of Access and Inclusion to run a series of self-help classes for caregiving families about public benefits. Those classes will be held at the courthouse, and virtually. Families attending a class can then easily drop by the help desk for more personalized guidance.

Cutting the Cost of Care

The grant from TCR also will enable the help desk staff to provide for critical needs for kinship caregivers—things like beds and other furniture, clothing, car repairs, utility bills, appliances, even moving expenses for caregivers needing to relocate to larger apartments to provide a room for their new charges.

Hubbard says she and other kinship caregivers absolutely will benefit from this concrete support. When her second grandchild, Ira, arrived, he had nothing with him. “He had no clothes. We didn’t know what size diapers he wore. He had problems with his digestive system. We just used whatever little money we had left.” Now, through the help desk, meeting this kinds of needs and others will be a little easier.

As Braun says, kinship families are “doing the heavy lifting. They are key to making this all work and raising the next generation of our community. So, supporting them is the best way to support the kids. I think this is a terrific idea.”