Mi Familia

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Imagine you and your husband have raised 6 children to adulthood. You are now both in your late 40's, Mexican-American and are living frugally on your husband's full-time income of $18,000 a year. Four of your children are doing very well and are now raising their own families. In fact, your youngest just graduated from college and is now a teacher. She is the first in your family to graduate from college.

Unfortunately, two of your adult children continuously struggle. One of the two still lives with you along with his 2 young children. He has trouble maintaining a job and you suspect he is using drugs. Often times, you and your husband pay for clothing, toys and food for his children. You know it is his responsibility to provide for the children, but you do not want to see them go without because he is unable to hold a job. He spends time with them, but often leaves you to care for the children while he is out. Their mother died a year ago due to a drug overdose.
Loosing their mother has drawn a line in time for them and you.

Your other struggling adult child married a man who has taken control of her life. He refuses to allow your family to be part of her life. You have seen her and your grand children 2 times in the last 3 years. You fear that this man is abusing her and your grand children. You miss your daughter and grandchildren tremendously and
often think about the days when they all lived with you before she married.

One day you receive a call from a CPS caseworker. She tells you that your 3 grandchildren have been taken into state custody and that the children are now living in a shelter. The caseworker tells you she is looking for a relative who is willing to take in the children while a judge determines if the children will go back to their mother or will be adopted. You begin to cry, but through the tears you tell the caseworker, "of course they can live with us; they are my babies; mi familia. When can I get them?" The caseworker tells you that the children will have to live in a foster home while CPS does a home study on your family. She also tells you to expect a call from a CREST worker who will meet with you in person to provide support, training and help you with the many questions you have.

In Bexar county TX (San Antonio), prior to 1998, the story above would have been the same, but the caseworker would not have been able to say, "expect a call from a CREST worker." The CREST Program (Comprehensive Relative Enhancement Support and Training) began as a three-year, federally funded demonstration project for children placed in substitute care with relative caregivers. Through CREST, relative caregivers receive training, support, advocacy, minimal financial assistance and assistance in adopting their kin, if this is what is in the best interest of the child(ren). This program strives to prevent placement disruptions and promote
permanency for children through adoption or reunification with their birth parents.

The federal grant which initially funded CREST ended October 31, 2000, at which point Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS) decided to grant CREST program status. At this point, Casey Family Programs, San Antonio Division, and TDPRS began a conversation about the formation of a community collaborative, which would serve to enhance and support the work of the CREST Program and, at the same time, assist Casey Family Programs in achieving its strategic goals. This conversation culminated in the signing of a Memorandum Of Understanding between the two organizations in March of 2001. This agreement allowed for the redeployment of two Casey staff to the CREST program, as well as funding for, short-term, child-focused stipends for material resources.

After 1 year of collaboration between TDPRS' CREST Program and Casey Family Programs, San Antonio Division, we are please to announce this collaboration will continue throughout 2002 and that many of our collective goals have not only been met, but exceeded.

Through the CREST program, TDPRS and Casey sought to significantly impact the lives of over 150 kinship families and 300 youth in kinship care in the year 2001. This was to be done by:

∑Goal 1--Increasing the number of TDPRS kinship care placements, thus reducing the number of children entering into the foster care system.

Outcome---Although we cannot solely credit the CREST program for this outcome, it is a fact that the number of TDPRS kinship care placements serviced through CREST continued to rise in 2001. CREST reached over 180 families raising their kin or wanting to be considered to raise their kin. This significantly impacted the lives of over 325 youth in temporary custody of the state.

∑Goal 2-Decreasing the number of disruptions of Kinship care placements.

Outcome-preliminary statistics indicate no change in comparison to the previous year. The disruption rate still remains far below that of foster care placements; less than 4% over the 9-12 month period that CREST works with families. Research will commence this year to study the long-term stability of CREST placements most of
which are kinship adoption placements.

∑Goal 3-Strengthening kinship care placements through the coordination of existing community resources, kinship caregiver support groups, advocacy and training, so that kin caregivers can function on a long-term basis without continued CREST involvement.

Outcome-significant progress has been achieved in regard to this goal. CREST's previous 8-week Caregiver curriculum has been expanded to 12 weeks. The new sessions include an additional session on the topic of Discipline, two sessions on the topic of Sexual Abuse, and one session entitled "Community Resource Night," has been
added. Community resource night allows Caregivers the opportunity to hear directly from external agency representatives about what resources which are available to them concerning TANF benefits, housing, emergency and long term day care, income tax law, resource information and referral, as well as internal PRS resources. Caregivers cannot only hear about applicable TANF benefits, but thanks to the TANF Customer Service Unit, can actually begin the application process at Community Resource Night. All caregivers also receive a comprehensive resource manual specifically designed for Kinship Caregivers by the United Way.

Over 110 of the 180 caregivers CREST served this past year participated in the CREST curriculum; almost all other caregivers had this information brought to them via home visits by CREST workers. In addition, two special topics meetings were held; one on the topic of Post-Adoptive services and one on the topic of Special Education
Advocacy and ADHD. Over 60 caregivers attended these sessions. Caregivers were also provided with an accessible summary of latest research on kinship care in America, as well as names and addresses of their elected officials so as to facilitate an independent letter writing campaign.

∑Goal 4-Increase the number of relative adoptions thus achieving permanency for children who would otherwise end up in foster care.

Outcome-preliminary statistics are yet to be finalized, but all anecdotal and corollary information indicates this goal has been achieved. It is estimated that approximately 90% of CREST cases over the past 4 years have resulted in Kinship adoption. We have no reason to believe 2001 was any different.

Without CREST, kinship caregivers would be forced to maneuver through the complex child welfare system on their own, many relative placements would never be considered for placement, relative adoptions would be the exception and not the norm, children would loose out on the chance to remain intimately connected to their biological family, and the state of Texas, in 2001, would have had to pay out foster care payments for an additional 325 children to foster parents who simply do not exist.

For more information about the CREST/Casey program, please contact Don D. Arispe
MTS, LMSW at darispe@casey.org, or 210 337-3438.

Credits: Don D. Arispe

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