Donna is raising 5 kids, ages 16, 14, 13, 5 and 2. She didn’t give birth to any of them, but they’re all her kids.
When Donna’s daughter wasn’t able to take care of her children, Child Welfare Services removed the kids. Donna and her husband took the steps necessary to become licensed resource caregivers in order to gain legal custody of their grandchildren. Several years later, a family member asked them to take in a cousin’s baby, which they did, and they eventually adopted the baby’s half-siblings as well.
Donna is a remarkable woman, but her situation is more common than you might think. Here in Hawaii, 1 in 20 kids is being raised by a relative who isn’t their parent. In the child welfare system, we call this a kinship family or a grandfamily.
When a child has to be removed from their biological family, placement with a relative is the first choice. A child who is placed with relatives experiences more stability, is less likely to run away, and is more likely to report always feeling loved. Studies estimate kinship caregivers save the U.S. more than $4 billion each year by keeping millions of children out of the foster care system, yet many of those families struggle with the added cost of health care, food and housing. Dr. Paulette Martinez Bethel, President and CEO of Family Programs Hawaii, agrees that state and federal policies and programs need to be strengthened to make sure these families are supported.
Since 2012, the GrandRally has been held in Washington, D.C. to raise the visibility of kinship families and to advocate for policy changes needed to support them. This year, Casey Family Programs gave us the opportunity to send Donna to represent Hawaii at the 5th National GrandRally: Building a Community of Hope. Donna said, “It was a blessing to go up there and represent Hawaii… I learned so much and met so many people. It was an awesome trip.”
In addition to the rally itself, Donna was able to attend advocacy training, a dinner honoring caregivers, and meetings with members of Congress to talk about kinship families. For Donna, the most important thing was realizing she’s not alone — “There’s hundreds around the world that are going through what we’re going through, and taking care of our kinship kids… We all need to stand as one for the kids. We need to be able to speak out on behalf of all of our children in care.”
A big mahalo to Casey Family Programs for sponsoring Donna’s trip and for your support of all kinship families, and to Donna for representing Family Programs Hawaii at this important conference.
If you’re interested in helping caregivers or being a caregiver, call the Warmline at (808) 545-1130 or 1-866-545-0882. If you are a caregiver, Donna set up a phone tree for caregivers to call each other for support. Call the Warmline if you’d like to join.