State officials say about 200,000 Ohio children - or roughly 7 percent of the state's child population - are being raised by grandparents or other nonparent family members.

On the day the judge signed the custody order, Albertine Boclear walked out of the Franklin County Courthouse, leaned against a pole and cried.

They weren’t tears of sadness. But they weren’t exactly joyous, either.

Two years ago, Boclear had given up her retirement in Arizona, moved back to Ohio and at age 64 was becoming a parent — again — to young children. She knew she had made the right choice. But it still was hard.

“Education is the most-important thing,” said Boclear, a panelist yesterday at the Ohio Grandparent Kinship Coalition’s statewide conference. “If you haven’t had contact with the system, with the courts, you have so much to learn.”

State officials say about 200,000 Ohio children — or roughly 7 percent of the state’s child population — are being raised by grandparents or other nonparent family members.

The coalition is working with child-welfare advocates, legislators and state officials to get more support and resources for kinship caregivers, who not only help their families but also their communities by keeping children out of expensive foster care.

Michael Colbert, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, told the group gathered at a Clintonville church that he’s trying to find funding for more “kinship navigators” at child-welfare agencies and for child-care assistance.

Colbert also supports the idea of a kinship guardian-assistance program that would allow families to receive some federal foster-care money. Many struggle to support families that double, triple or even quadruple overnight.

“We have ongoing groups working on this,” Colbert said of the assistance program. “The courts like it. We like it.”

Although some smaller counties and counties without child-welfare levies worry about their share of the cost, supporters think they can come up with a way to make it work. Chip Spinning, executive director of Franklin County Children Services, said 39 states have some type of kinship guardian-assistance program.

“In the end, the goal of the program would be to reduce the need for more foster-care placements,” Spinning said.

Kinship caregivers can receive some money through the state’s Kinship Permanency Incentive Program or through their county agencies, but the assistance is time-limited. Some low-income families also can get child-only welfare money.

Financial assistance isn’t the only issue. Legal proceedings for caregivers also can be rife with snags.

Advocates successfully pushed last year to change Ohio law so that the power-of-attorney and affidavits that grandparents need don’t automatically expire after one year.

Denise St. Clair, executive director of the National Center on Adoption Law and Policy at Capital University, said courts still need more-uniform protocols for handling kinship cases.

Boclear has had custody of her two grandchildren, now 5 and 10 years old, since 2011. Her daughter wasn’t caring for them properly, and Boclear didn’t want them put into foster care.

Her retirement dreams will have to wait, possibly forever. “It’s kind of overwhelming,” she said, smiling. “But it can be done.”

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