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Victoria Gray

Victoria Gray was taken aback by an unexpected phone call that brought startling news: her granddaughter was slated for foster care. She was completely unaware of the child's existence. The little one was the daughter of her son, who, at the time, was grappling with addiction and homelessness. Victoria's granddaughter was just a few months old and faced significant medical challenges, including two heart defects. The thought of her granddaughter in foster care was unbearable to Victoria, prompting her to make a courageous decision – to assume responsibility for raising the child. After several months, a court order finally compelled the foster care agency to place the child under Victoria's care. It was during this period that Victoria was introduced to the concept of "kinship care," where agencies place foster children with relatives or close friends, individuals with pre-existing bonds. While kinship care had been underutilized for decades in many states, recent research highlighting its positive impact on foster children placed with familiar faces has led to a change in approach. Victoria herself could attest to the difference kinship care made: "I did things for her that I don't think a foster parent would have done... They don't have that same level of investment. But to me, she is my granddaughter." The benefits of kinship care are evident. Children placed with close relatives experience less trauma when entering the foster care system, are more likely to maintain school and community stability, and generally show improvements in mental health and academic performance. However, despite these advantages, kinship care has not gained as much traction as it should because many foster care systems have traditionally favored licensed foster parents, often offering lower financial support to kinship caregivers. Victoria's own experience in Arizona exemplified this disparity. Initially, she received a meager stipend of less than $100 to cover her granddaughter's basic needs. When Victoria adopted her granddaughter's half-brother, she became a licensed foster parent to retain custody, which significantly increased her state funding. Though the specific requirements vary from state to state, becoming a kinship caregiver is typically a less convoluted process compared to becoming a licensed foster parent. For instance, in Arizona, kinship caregivers are evaluated by the Department of Child Safety, whereas licensed foster parents must undergo a series of mandatory classes. The utilization of relatives in the foster care system varies significantly by state, ranging from around 10 percent in some areas to as high as 50 percent in others. More states are beginning to remove barriers to kinship care, partly due to compelling evidence supporting its benefits, a shortage of licensed foster parents, and feedback from the children themselves. Victoria's personal journey motivated her to become an advocate for other kinship families. She joined forces with like-minded individuals to lobby the state government to bridge the support gap between traditional foster parents and kinship caregivers. Despite numerous challenges over the years, Victoria's steadfast belief in the importance of family led her to foster 48 children, many of whom were siblings.

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