Kinship Caregiver Initiative

The Change Reaction Supports Families in the Foster Care System 

Carol Hubbard was out of town when she got the call. It was the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). They had a baby in the foster care system, her youngest daughter’s baby. “They said, ‘Do (you) want him or not?’”

Carol, who was approaching 60 and working fulltime as a neuro rehab specialist at the Centre for Neuro Skills in Tarzana, had already raised four children, including her youngest, who she knew struggled with drug addiction. Carole also knew about her baby, Ira, and had visited her daughter after she gave birth. She often reached out, offering to help, visited when she could, and asked for photos and news.

What she did not know was that by July DCFS had removed 6 month-old Ira from the home due to domestic violence, put him with a foster family, and begun the process of looking for a relative who might take him into their home. Carol was that relative. 

She soon found herself scrambling to outfit her home, which she shares with one of her other daughters, to meet the needs of a baby and the requirements of the county. She had to find a crib, stroller, car seat, playpen, dresser, baby clothes and food. “This was an emergency situation. We had no idea. We didn’t have those things,” Carole says. “But who’s going to say, ‘Oh no. I don’t want him?’ This is (my) own grandkid.”

Carol depleted her savings to get what she could and relied on credit cards. Family members helped, as did neighbors. “I posted on NextDoor, asking if anyone has anything. I’m not asking for handouts, but even things to buy. The neighborhood showed up. They brought clothing, cribs. Some lady crocheted some beautiful sweaters.”

Even with all that help, the costs of caring for a baby continued to increase. Then, the day after Christmas this past December, she got another call. Her daughter had given birth to a second baby, and this one needed to be taken from the hospital immediately or he would be sent to a foster family. Carole took in that baby, too. With two unplanned babies under the age of two, this hardworking grandmother was now facing a childrearing task that would tire out a young, fit, couple with savings to tap. By February she had taken an unpaid leave of absence from her job to care for the two grandchildren now in her care.

The Foster Care Crisis in California and How to Help

While being called to take in two infants in less than one year is unusual, the urgency and lack of prep time Carol faced is a typical experience for kinship families in Los Angeles. Out of nowhere, a family member—and, in California, a non-related extended family member/family friend—learns that a child has been removed from the home or abandoned at the hospital after birth, and that if he or she doesn’t step in, the child will be sent to live with strangers or in a group home. These relatives and family friends, referred to as “kinship placement” within the foster care system, often are given less than a week’s notice, sometimes less than 24 hours. They haven’t budgeted for  children or organized their lives around raising them. They have to adjust to the news, and quickly.

There are some 60,000 kids in foster care in California. Every day, more than 16,000 children in Los Angeles County navigate the foster care system. These are generally children who have been taken from their parents’ home due to parental addiction, abuse or neglect. Research shows that children tend to do better when raised by family members than by a succession of strangers or by a professional in a group home. But the county can deny a grandmother like Carol the right to take in a grandchild if she can’t round up the required supplies or provide a separate bedroom. While more than half of these children do find a home with relatives, often elderly, the rest are sent to group homes or to live with strangers. 

The Change Reaction started the Kinship Caregiver Support Initiative to support family caregivers like Carol. With a grant of nearly $3 million over the next three years to two distinct programs, The Change Reaction aims to help some 1,500 kin caregivers and their children. The ultimate goal is to keep more families together by routing needed funds to kinship caregivers and connecting them to information and resources that make their lives as instant-caregivers a little easier.  

As The Change Reaction founder Greg Perlman put it, “You hear this so often, ‘Oh, he’s placed with Grandma.’ But you don’t understand the logistical nightmare involved. It happens really fast. Our aim is to help all of these families.”

Kinship Caregiver Support Initiative + CarePortal

One part of the  Kinship Caregiver Support Initiative addresses the immediate, material needs of families by working in partnership with CarePortal, a tech platform designed to empower faith communities to make a difference by linking needy families with donors and volunteers. In 2023, The Change Reaction partnered with CarePortal to create and fund a new, three-year pilot program specifically dedicated to meeting the needs of kinship families.

As with most of The Change Reaction’s programs, the Kinship Caregiver Support Initiative taps the knowledge of dedicated, hard-working social workers who interact with participants directly. In this case, a social worker involved in the foster care system can log onto CarePortal, list the specific items a kinship family member such as Carol is requesting as well as details about the placement. “It will describe how they ended up in her care, the need, and how it will help. Then they will estimate the value, say $400 for shoes, backpacks, uniform, all the essentials to start school,” says Elisse Davis, the CarePortal staff member dedicated to this program.  The Change Reaction automatically funds the request up to $1500 per family. Faith groups can then scroll through the caregiver requests and click on those they want to address, using the money provided by The Change Reaction. Volunteers may take the money to order something through Amazon, or pick up supplies and bring them directly to the caregiver’s home.

By pre-approving the requests, the Change Reaction pilot speeds up CarePortal’s existing process; usually a social worker submitting a request for a client must wait to see if any donors in the CarePortal network agree to fund it. The automatic funding not only puts faith in the social workers, it also provides them with a guarantee that they can help their clients with this need, asap. “It is also expanding the population we can serve. We’ve been able to onboard three new agencies that are kinship focused to broaden our level of service,” says Davis.

In its first month The Change Reaction helped 225 children through CarePortal. There is no other system like CarePortal,” explained Wade Trimmer, President of the Change Reaction. 

“The kids are already placed in the family, and they need some stabilization. Maybe it’s been a few months or even longer, and then something has come up and they have a concrete need.”

Another grandmother caregiver, Shirley Knighton, is raising one of her son’s children, a six-month old baby named Eyonna. She relies on CarePortal for help and exclaimed “It’s helped me a whole lot because Pampers and stuff are so expensive. She’s growing like a leaf. Now she’s about 20 some pounds, she’s a big girl. She’s doing good. I appreciate them. I really, really appreciate them.”

Helping the caregivers is an essential part of helping the next generation of Angelenos. As Carole says, “If I go down, I’m taking everybody with me.” Carole hopes to encourage other kinship families to reach out for help and to find others in similar circumstances. She has joined two Facebook groups for grandparents, and is attending an in-person meeting for grandparents of foster children. “You feel alone, but you’re not alone. There are other people who have been through these things and can be an ear or shoulder.”