Family support: Help grandma help the kids
TheStar.com – opinions/editorial
Published On Fri Jan 21 2011.
For the second time in less than a year a tribunal has ordered the provincial government to reinstate a $240 monthly benefit that helps grandparents raise their needy grandchildren.
But instead of seeing this latest judgment as cause to clarify the rules so other grandparents don’t have to go through this same fight, Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur is content to simply urge others to follow in their tortured footsteps.
“The appeal process is in place for people to access when they disagree with an eligibility decision,” says her spokeswoman.
Sure, they can get a lawyer and head off to Ontario’s Social Benefits Tribunal, but why should they? This is not how government programs should be applied.
It is either good policy to give grandparents like Wendy O’Riley access to the temporary care allowance program — that provides assistance to family members and other adults who step in to look after children when parents are incapable — or it is not.
We believe it is. The government should undo the harm it caused with a 2008 directive “clarifying” the rules that started the spate of grandparents being cut off because the care they provided was not deemed temporary enough.
O’Riley, who lives on a $15,000-a-year pension, has been caring for 13-year-old Amanda under interim custody orders since the girl was 3 years old.
The allowance applied to grandparents is helping achieve exactly what the government is trying to do with its broader child welfare policies: keeping children with their extended family and out of the foster care system. It’s better for children and cheaper for taxpayers.
What is the alternative? Hoping that grandparents on fixed incomes will soldier on and raise their grandchildren in abject poverty? Or they will accept defeat and turn these kids over to a Children’s Aid Society to be shuffled around foster homes and group homes at far greater cost to both taxpayers and the children?
We should be grateful that grandparents are willing to step in and raise children when their parents cannot. Many do not need or seek assistance from the government. But those who live on fixed incomes insufficient to care for children should be able to rely on some assistance without fear of it suddenly being cut off because they have provided too stable a home.
The wording of the provincial directive suggests the government would consider situations “temporary” so long as the child slept on the couch and the caregiver ignored the child’s educational and medical well-being. That’s absurd. No loving grandparent would act that way.
The minister should fix this mess and issue a new directive to local welfare administrators making it clear that time alone is not a reason to withhold the temporary care benefit.
O’Riley’s case should be the last time the tribunal has to hear about a grandparent being cut off for doing too good a job.
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