DFCS slow to pay kinship care providers

At least six metro area grandparents raising grandchildren claim they have not received their monthly relative caregiver payments from the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) for several months, and an Atlanta attorney is trying to help them collect.

Gary and Beverly Trotter of Conyers received a call from the Rockdale County DFCS office in December, asking them to foster their two grandsons.

Disabled, Trotter, 59, was concerned about making ends meet until he learned they were entitled to caregiver payments. The Trotters are expected to receive about $800 a month.

Now, almost four months later, the Trotters are still waiting for that money.

“We’ve been finger-printed,” said Trotter. “They came out and took pictures of our refrigerator and pantry, but we haven’t received anything. It’s kind of been a nightmare.”

Trotter said he had to take out a personal loan from a finance company at a high interest rate to help cover the additional costs of caring for their grandchildren over the past three-and-a-half months.

Federal guidelines call for states to place children who end up in protective custody with kin, such as grandparents, whenever possible.

DFCS pays foster parents $15.04 a day per child age 5 and younger; $17 a day per child, age 6-12; and $19.36 per child age 13 and older.

Foster grandparents receive 80 percent of those amounts.

In 2015, the General Assembly conducted a year-long study committee to look into the needs of more than 100,000 grandparents who are raising about 130,000 grandchildren in Georgia. High on the list of complaints was a lack of response from DFCS.

“They have made a bad first impression,” said Debbie Smith, 58, of Atlanta, who was asked by DFCS to foster her infant grandson, Ricardo, in October. “They never return my calls. I think that is just their protocol.”

In addition, she said, “every time I go back (to the DFCS office), they tell me they need something else.”

Smith took a leave of absence from her job as a machine operator at Kraft-Nabisco to care for Ricardo and file the necessary paper work to keep him in her home. She claims one form was mishandled by her caseworker, which caused a two-week delay in the process.

“You have to laugh to keep from crying, I’m just trying to keep my sanity. They’re making it so hard to just do the right thing for my grandchild,” Smith said.

Smith had to withdraw money from her 401(k) to help meet expenses since taking in Ricardo.

She is due about $2,100.

Hilary Leland, a lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid who helps grandparents and other kin navigate legal issues related to guardianship and custody, said one grandparent she’s working with has been waiting almost a year for payments to begin.

“(DFCS) just doesn’t make (grandparents) a priority,” Leland said.

DFCS spokeswoman Susan Boatwright said it typically takes three months to approve and process a new foster parent, even those related to the children. She didn’t know if grandparents would receive back pay from the date a child was placed with them.

“The intent of the Division is that all eligible persons caring for a foster child are compensated, this includes both relative and foster home placements,” said Boatwright. “Currently over 3,000 relative caregivers are approved and receiving compensation, but again we want to ensure all eligible relatives are being compensated if they are caring for a child in foster care. Relatives who have been waiting for several months are encouraged to contact the regional Kinship Care Navigator at https://dhs.georgia.gov or call the Kinship Navigator manager at 404-623-0880.”

This report was funded by a grant from the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, a program of the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism.

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