Photo courtesy Jennifer Webster
Many of Wisconsin’s First Nations leadership were on hand August 2 for a special Kinship Care Tribal Consultation held in Lac Du Flambeau, Wis.
Front Row: Ganebik Brownrigg Johnson, Elliott Brownrigg Johnson. Middle Row: Oneida Nation Councilwoman Jennifer Webster, DCF Child Welfare and Youth Justice Director Wendy Henderson, DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson, Lac du Flambeau Councilwoman Gloria Cobb, Stephanie Lozano. Back Row: Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle, Lac du Flambeau President John Johnson Sr., and Menominee Tribe Chairman Ron Corn Sr.
Government Administrative Offices
During the June 2022 state consultations with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), numerous tribal leaders requested additional time to continue discussions on their respective Kinship Care programs. This led to a Kinship Care Tribal Consultation meeting August 2, 2022, in Lac Du Flambeau which Oneida Nation Business Committee (OBC) Councilwoman Jennifer Webster participated in along with other First Nation’s leadership from across the state. Webster’s involvement with the program stems from her dedication to the OBC’s Broad Goals of community Health and Safety, Culture and Language, and Government Roles and Responsibilities.
Kinship Care is a program designed to help support children and families outside of the parental home. The program allows for children to live with a relative temporarily or long-term due to safety issues, but recent concerns raised by several participating tribes has the DCF considering a number of changes within their governing rules. “We needed to do a deep dive into the Kinship Care requirements, laws, and funding,” Webster said. “This consultation gave us the opportunity to discuss issues and barriers for caregivers who want to assist with our kids. More and more people are unable to take care of their children due to the pandemic, substance abuse issues, or other reasons. This is where other relatives have historically stepped in under the Kinship Care Program.”
Current Kinship Care assistance rates to caregivers is $300 per month, a wholly insufficient amount that may not even cover the cost of food. “Kids need back-to-school supplies, school clothes, weekend and after-school activities, and if the caregiver takes in more than one child this is really going to add up fast,” Webster continued. “We’re going to try to acquire increased funding from the state, and we’re trying to get the rules relaxed for the blood relative requirements for becoming a Kinship Care caregiver. In many instances we have families that’ll have a best friend take in a child, but that person doesn’t qualify for any supportive services because they’re not blood-related.”
Getting DCF to implement some of these changes is going to be a time-consuming endeavor and key to the ongoing viability of the Kinship Care programs. “We’re exploring what needs to be done to make these things happen,” Webster said. “Do we need to get state statutes changed, what’s going to be the impact on the state budget, these questions need to be addressed because there are so many tentacles that extend from this program. Other questions include if you’re a Kinship Care provider, would you still quality for TANF or Like-Kin? Or does that income affect HUD Housing or rent? A lot of these issues may dissuade good people from getting involved as a Kinship Care caregiver.”
Webster’s steadfast involvement in this program throughout her term as Councilwoman, and others like it, has given her a new appreciation for the staff of Oneida Behavioral Health. “Our Social Services areas are amazing,” Webster said. “They deal with all the different requirements that go with Kinship Care, which differs from Foster Care, and these programs are so detailed that each individual case is unique for them.”
The Wisconsin DCF will research the suggested program updates and report their findings back to the respective Kinship Care programs sometime in the next six months. To learn more about Wisconsin DCF’s Kinship Care programs, please visit Kinship Care in Wisconsin.