Grandparents Raising Kids Hit Roadblocks In School Enrollment
Across the country, it’s becoming increasingly common for grandparents to raise their grandchildren.
That can be troublesome when these same grandparents try to enroll the children in school.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW.
Across the country it is becoming increasingly common for grandparents to raise their grandchildren. In Ohio, for example, more than 100,000 children live in homes run by their grandparents. But when those grandparents go to enroll their grandkids in school, they often find that they don't have the proper documentation.
From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WCPN's Sarah Jane Tribble reports that attorneys in Cleveland are stepping in to help grandparents hurdle the legal barriers.
SARAH JANE TRIBBLE, BYLINE: It's a sunny Saturday afternoon just weeks before the first day of school, and Barb Pasela has shown up at a former elementary school in Parma. The building is being used for what's called a kinship care workshop, and volunteer law students are manning the registration table for a day-long event. Attorneys are milling around, waiting for grandparents just like Pasela to walk in the door.
BARB PASELA: Hi. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How are you doing?
TRIBBLE: The 55-year-old grandmother has been taking care of two grandchildren for years. A 4-year-old granddaughter moved in at nine months old, and a 17-year-old granddaughter began living with her off and on this summer. It's a situation that is both rewarding - because she loves her grandchildren - but also trying.
PASELA: I don't have a lot of extra people to try and help out with anything.
TRIBBLE: So when it comes to enrolling the kids in school, Ohio's requirement for a very specific piece of paper to be filled out and notarized can seem daunting. Yvonne Billingsley, who oversees the children and families services unit at Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office, says the document is called a caretaker authorization affidavit.
YVONNE BILLINGSLEY: It's a difficult situation when you have to navigate a court system to do legal filings, hire an attorney, try and understand what to do.
TRIBBLE: Schools need the form to verify that a child really is being cared for by the person who lives in their district. And as a new school year begins across the country, administrators are seeing more kids who need the paperwork. Census data shows that about 4 percent of American children are being raised by their grandparents. Streamlining the paperwork process is more important now than ever as the number of kids in the care of relatives continues to rise, explains Ana Beltran.
ANA BELTRAN: Nationwide, it's up about 18 percent over the last decade. The increase is probably due, and I say probably because we don't know definitively, but probably due to the economy, to increased rates of incarceration. Many of these parents are abusing substances.
TRIBBLE: Beltran is an attorney with a national advocacy group called Generations United. She is putting the finishing touches on a report about the differences between educational consent laws in different states. In some states, she says, grandparents end up obtaining legal custody or guardianship to meet a school district's residency requirements.
Patrick Haggerty is an attorney who volunteered at the Saturday workshop, and he says that the one affidavit required in Ohio can be overwhelming for families who are often in crisis situations. Too many children miss school because they don't have the notarized affidavit, Haggerty says. And he was disappointed that only a handful of grandparents came to the workshop.
PATRICK HAGGERTY: Other kids will begin learning, and these kids may be 30 days behind if not for something like we're trying to do today.
TRIBBLE: Despite the low turnout, organizers say they are not discouraged, and they are already planning two more sessions for next year. For grandmother Barb Pasela, the two hours spent at the workshop were well worth her time.
PASELA: This has made it so much easier just to - it's all the paperwork, all the legal advise you want, everything's done in one location. Wham, bam, thank you.
TRIBBLE: That kind of one-stop shopping is the kind of ease that national experts like Ana Beltran say should be available everywhere and all of the time. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Sarah Jane Tribble in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.