July 24, 2017 - There are an estimated 345,000 minor children living with relatives in Florida. However, this figure may not be accurate because many times families are silent as to who is actually raising the children. Many times this group of relatives is without legal authority to take care of the children's needs, such as registering the child for school or handling medical, financial, and housing issues.
The reasons for the large amount of children in relative care range from economic issues, loss of jobs, parents being deployed in the military, substance abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, serious illness, teenage pregnancy, and death. There is a growing number of grandparents and great grandparents stepping up to help stabilize these children and keep them out of the dependency system and foster care. However, these relatives that step up need help from the community.
These relatives need the legal authority to make the everyday and future decisions for the minor child. This might be short term or, in some instances, long range goals. They also need daycare if the relatives work or are elderly and need respite. The relatives need support groups to know they aren’t alone and referrals to get economic help, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and relative caregiver funds.
Our Relative Caregivers Project helps address this important community need. Supervising Attorney Judith Migdal-Mack and Paralegal Lanice Peterson assess the needs of the family and help obtain legal authority for the relatives to make the necessary decisions and keep the children out of the dependency system. They also make referrals for daycare, support groups, community help organizations such as Bridges, and teach the relatives to obtain benefits through Access Florida and other economic resources available to them. The relatives gain the knowledge to further access resources in the community as well. Judith calls these relatives “silent heroes”. They often take on these children with no help and often times with no complaint. It is important to Judith and Lanice that these families know that there is help for them and that they don’t have to be silent.The Project also helps keep the family stable instead of splitting them apart. The short term goals of this Project are to help the relatives with immediate needs of the family through gaining legal authority and through needed referrals. The Project also looks to the needs of the family long term and addresses estate planning and realistic future needs of the caregiver, including future relatives that may need to take over this responsibility. When family members help each other and create a stable environment for children, the entire community benefits.
In addition, The Project also helps clients become Guardian Advocates for their children with developmental delays, once they turn 18, and are considered adults. The Florida Statutes allows the parent or close relation to the individual to make the important decisions if the individual cannot. These decisions can include financial help, where the individual lives and medical treatment that might be needed. Judith and Lanice can help clients prepare the Guardian Advocate petition and address all the “what ifs” with the parents or guardians.
The Project is primarily funded by the Children’s Services Council with additional funding provided through the Area Agency on Aging of Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, Inc. and the Henry Nias Foundation.