PHOENIX — Governor Doug Ducey is calling to increase funding for grandparents and other close relatives who raise kids in foster care, helping families stay together and ensuring all caregivers have the support they need.
In his State of the State Address, Governor Ducey said:
“Often, it’s grandma or grandpa; an aunt or uncle, who steps up to care for [vulnerable] kids. It can be better for the child, and often, cheaper for the state because historically, they haven’t been treated as foster families. More than 6,000 children in Arizona live in these homes, all the evidence you need that you can’t put a price tag on love. So moving forward, these loving extended family members should have the same resources as any other foster family. We’ll make sure of that this year.”
Kinship families are extended family members, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, who become caregivers for a child when a child enters into Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) care due to abuse or neglect. These kinship homes are often familiar and a loving place for children and can be less traumatic for a child than being placed in an unfamiliar location.
However, kinship and foster care are not compensated equally. Foster parents receive an average monthly stipend of approximately $700 to support bringing in a child to their families, while kinship families receive $75 a month. Many of these kinship families are headed by grandparents on a fixed income and taking on these children can cause great financial strain.
To close this gap and help these family members who have stepped up to the plate, the Governor will prioritize raising compensation for kinship families who have devoted their time to help these vulnerable children. Under this plan, the kinship families will be able to receive the same level of financial support as Arizona foster care families receive.
“The Governor's commitment to financially supporting kinship caregivers and giving them quick access to the benefits of having a foster care license gives kinship caregivers the opportunity to do what they do best, love the children in their care and help them heal,” said Kris Jacober, executive director of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation. “We hear about the struggles from relative caregivers every day who upend their lives to step up and step in to care for the children in their extended families who come into foster care. They need our help and support to give the children who come into their care the childhood they deserve.”
Further removing barriers and getting government out of the way, DCS would expedite licensing for kinship families to become a licensed foster family. With this streamlined approach, kinship families would be eligible for the full amount paid to foster parents.
The expedited licensing process would waive certain foster family requirements not related to safety, such as allowing a den to be used as a bedroom or allowing an additional child to share a room.
“We commend the Governor for recognizing the importance of supporting kinship families, who care for children when parents can't,” said Ann Nichols, chair of the Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors and Kinship Caregivers. “These families, like mine, have lots of love but often struggle with financial resources. Increasing the stipend that goes to foster children placed with kin and removing barriers to kinship foster parent licensure will go a long way toward providing greater stability and permanence for these children.”
In 2020, kinship represented 45 percent of placements for children in the Arizona Department of Child Safety system. Kinship families tend to be led by a grandparent who may no longer be able to work and is on a fixed income. The lack of financial support can be a barrier to more kin agreeing to take in children. This can result in a child going into foster care, large sibling groups being broken up and more placements in congregate care.
Since Governor Ducey has taken office, Arizona has made notable strides in supporting kinship and foster families.
In 2016, Governor Ducey signed “Jacob’s Law” to ensure easier, better access to behavioral health care for Arizona foster kids and families. He also signed legislation to remove the “grandmother penalty” to ensure that grandparents aren’t financially punished for taking in their grandchild.
The fiscal year 2018 budget increased funding for kinship caregivers, creating the “grandmother stipend.” Under Governor Ducey’s leadership, financial support for kinship families was raised from $0 to $75 a month per child regardless of family income.