While Georgia state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver’s efforts to make sure the state’s relative caregivers get paid closer to what licensed foster parents get is important, and necessary, it is even more important for these relatives to at least begin getting the current relative caregiver payments they are already due.
During my time as a case-carrying child welfare worker in southwest Georgia, I repeatedly saw relatives denied what state law says they are entitled to.
I personally know one Georgia relative caregiver – her name is Karen – who has been caring for her infant nephew for three years now. She told me that it took her over nine months, after a child was placed with her by Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS), before she received her first relative care payment. The child’s case manager brought the then 3-month-old child to this relative, walked through the home to assess its safety, and left.
The case manager did not even leave documents showing that the family was legally able to care for the child, much less diapers, formula or even extra clothing. The relative and her husband were living on minimum wages, but could not fathom the thought of their infant relative being placed in a foster home. So without a second thought, they opened their home and their hearts to care for the infant.
According to DFCS policy, the relative care assessment should be completed by the case worker assigned to the family within 30 days of placing the child with their relative. This assessment is first and foremost to ensure the child’s safety, and secondly, once it’s submitted and approved by a county supervisor, relative care payments are then able to be made.
The question we all should be asking is, who is holding local DFCS county offices accountable for ensuring they are following these rules? From my professional experience with the agency, the answer is clear: No one.
Rep. Oliver will most likely hear from DFCS that all relative caregivers are encouraged to take the foster parent class and become certified to get the foster parent pay. Should a relative choose to become certified as a foster parent, this process may take up to 12 months before the family is approved.
Georgia’s local county DFCS offices need to be held accountable by regional and state office staff if our state’s relative caregivers are going to be paid the current approved amount or the amount that Oliver plans to push for.
The underlying concern is not just how much the relative caregivers are or will be getting paid. It is also how to hold our states child welfare agency responsible for ensuring they are paid at all.
Leah DeLanoy is the founder and director of Uphold Homes, Inc., which provides foster care and adoption recruitment, training and home study services in Georgia.