Norma Hatfield never expected to be raising kids as a grandmother in her mid-50s, but she didn’t have much choice when her granddaughter was found in a home with drugs and placed in foster care. Hatfield, 55, an Elizabethtown native, said at the time she had planned to take her granddaughter, Kayla Hatfield, to Disney World the next day.
“Instead of Disney World, she went to foster care,” Hatfield said.
She and her husband now have sole custody of Kayla, who is 9 years old. They are also raising 12-year-old LaJuan Culley, who is Kayla’s stepsister.
As many as 7 percent or roughly 70,000 Kentucky children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives – the highest rate in the nation – according to the advocacy group Kentucky Youth Advocates. Additionally, the group reported in its 2017 Kids Count County Data Book that the trend is growing with rate increases in 88 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Before she got custody of Kayla and LaJuan, Hatfield was looking forward to early retirement. After a 30-year career at Fort Knox, she had planned to spend time with her parents and travel with her husband. The couple had just returned from a hiking trip in Peru before everything changed, Hatfield said.
Although she loves raising the children, it has been an adjustment. She now spends her days getting the kids ready for school, getting them to basketball practices and doctor’s appointments, helping with homework and adjusting to how different schools have become.
“All of a sudden I went from an empty nest … and now I’m shifting to all of the things that kids need to do again,” she said.
The change hasn’t been easy. She’s had to face some loss.
“You don’t get to be grandma,” she said. “You don’t get to keep them for a weekend, give them sugar, give them kisses and send them home.”
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said his organization will lobby to restore funding for the Kentucky Kinship Care Program during the next legislative session. The program made caregivers eligible for $300 a month per child before a 2013 budget cut froze its funding, according to Kentucky Youth Advocates. Since then, no new participants have been enrolled in the program.
“Step one is to get us back just to where we were,” he said.
The effort is expected to face an uphill battle as lawmakers draw up the state’s budget, but that isn’t deterring Brooks. The program is economical, he said, because the subsidies would be cheaper than monthly foster care payments.
“Despite the financial constraints that we know are going to be there in January, we’re approaching kinship with optimism,” he said.
Hatfield knows she isn’t alone. She hears stories from other families, and she answers endless requests asking for help getting resources.
“A lot of these folks are in their 60s,” she said. “Some of them are widowed, single grandmas that are only on disability and they’re taking in multiple kids.”
Often, Hatfield said, the decision to become a guardian comes without notice. She remembers one grandmother who was expecting to visit her newly delivered grandchild in the hospital. Instead, the baby was born addicted to heroin and faced going into the foster care system without a guardian.
“There’s no planning,” she said. “There’s no notice.”
It’s those stories that have spurred her to action. Hatfield has become an advocate for kinship care. She’s met with her local lawmakers, including state Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, who recently filed legislation that would permanently establish the state’s kinship care program during the next legislative session.
“Conceptually, we think that bill is headed in the right direction,” Brooks said.
Hatfield has also written to Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell.
“I write the governor off and on trying to get a meeting with him one-on-one. I haven’t had any success yet,” she said in an email. “I have written Sen. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell and also tried to meet with them to talk about possible federal funding to help with kinship care. I even offered to meet them in D.C. I am still waiting.”
Hatfield has a Facebook page, Support Kinship Care in Kentucky, to share information about kinship care.
To date, she’s collected at least 4,200 signatures for a petition for kinship care that she regularly copies and delivers to every state senator and Bevin, she said. She also collects signatures for her petition by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In October, Hatfield testified before state lawmakers and told the stories of relatives who are raising as many as eight children and barely getting by. It’s those stories that keep her up at night, she said.
“They’re doing everything they can,” she said. “The state just needs to step up and help as well.”
For the full New Era Kentucky article, click here.