They’ve won one battle but a group of determined local residents say the war to reverse the government’s decision to cut social assistance to families caring for their relative’s children is just beginning.
As of April 1, changes to government assistance eliminated a special monthly stipend for children in the legal custody of relatives other than their biological parents. But an outcry from grandparents, uncles, aunts and others saying the cuts leave them no choice but to put their young relations in foster care has convinced the Human Resources Ministry to rethink that decision.
Social assistance cheques were issued this month and the ministry has promised it will review the change.
“We were approached about this by some constituents and we pursued it aggressively with both the human resources ministry and ministry of children and families and were able to get them to give us some temporary relief by extending the program another month,” said Prince George-North MLA Pat Bell.
Bell said he plans to meet with both human resources minister Murray Coell and children and families minister Gordon Hogg Monday in Victoria to press the issue.
“Our focus is to provide support to extended families to look after those children instead of putting more children into foster care.”
In Prince George the campaign to restore the lost funding is being led by Families Fostering Family, a group organized by Marlene Hardstaff and Diana Brown both grandparents caring for their children’s children.
“We formed this group out of necessity,” said Hardstaff. Less than two weeks after forming, FFF already counts 20 different families as members, and Hardstaff expects it to continue growing.
“We want to offer each other support and come together as a community and do what we need to do to change this. For now we’ve gotten one small reprieve.”
Hardstaff who received $402 each month to care for her 15-year-old grandson said that in many cases the children being cared for suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, narcotic syndrome, attention deficit disorder or other behavioural problems. And many of the grandparents caring for those children are themselves on fixed incomes already.
The lost funding also includes loss of medical, dental and eye care support. One member of the group, said Brown, already spends more than $600 each month just on medication for her grandchild.
The group also questions the fiscal wisdom behind cutting payments for children in care of relatives.
Brown who received $504 each month to care for her 10 and 12-year-old grandchildren points out that the monthly stipend paid to foster families is many times higher, ranging from $700 to more than $1,500 per month, per child depending on their needs.
“We’re already doing the same job as foster parents raising other people’s children,” she said. “But we’re doing it for so much less.”
Brown wants the government to do a “needs test” of families to assess which really need the extra funding and which don’t.
Bell supports that idea, and said he plans to propose it to ministers Hogg and Coell at his Monday meeting.
Meanwhile Hardstaff and Brown are planning the next battle in their war and trying to find more families feeling the effects of the assistance cut.
Anyone interested in joining or offering support can call 964-0349 or 963-9823.