What One Grandparent Wants You to Know About Supporting Kinship Caregivers

Mercedes Bristol is a grandparent raising five grandchildren after their involvement with Child Protective Services (CPS). She also advocates for the needs and rights of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Mercedes is what is known as a kinship caregiver.

According to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), 276,800 children in Texas reside with an adult, like Mercedes, who is not their parent. This includes, but is not limited to, both informal (i.e. placement without CPS legal intervention) and formal (i.e. placement for children in state custody or a licensed kinship family home) kinship placements. For children in the state’s custody, more than 40% of children are placed in a kinship home across most regions.

Mercedes has been actively involved with kinship caregiver support groups in the San Antonio area and co-leads a group quarterly meeting alongside DFPS. Mercedes additionally lends her personal experience and expertise to the policy-making process by working closely with CPS to provide input and review policies, and she encourages other grandparents to get involved as well.

Kinship caregivers have unique needs and often do not know what services are available to them and the children in their care. Many kinship caregivers face financial challenges but do not receive the same kind of financial compensation as foster parents unless they decide to become licensed. However, that is only an option for children who are in the state’s custody.

But what about families who step up when CPS isn’t legally involved? There are even fewer supports, and it can be difficult to learn how to navigate multiple systems to obtain the services they need. They may not have anyone to help guide them. Regardless of the steep road of challenges, kinship caregivers rise to the occasion.

We spoke with Mercedes about her own experience, the opportunities for Texas to better support kinship caregivers, and the supports she can offer.

TexProtects: What has been the most rewarding thing about being a caregiver to your grandchildren?

Mercedes Bristol: When they all go to bed at night after saying our prayers and see that they are safe.

TP: You already got involved in a significant way by stepping up to meet the needs of your family. What made you want to take a step further and get more involved in community and policy work?

MB: One day I was struggling with the step I had taken. Then someone told me to not just let life happen to my grandchildren and me but to be proactive instead! I knew I was not the only one raising my grandchildren, and I decided to be a support to them. From there, I joined a support group called Abuelos y Nietos Juntos in 2012 run by Dr. Santos and received much needed support from this group. Knowing there were other grandparents like myself, I asked if we could start other groups and Dr. Santos helped me start one. We are now 12 support groups and growing. Besides the support groups, we thought that we needed to make people aware of grandparents’ needs, so we contacted state representatives and senators and Judge Peter Sakai in San Antonio. That is where the advocacy part started.

TP: What are the needs you hear about the most in the support groups you helped establish?

MB: Most of the support we give is around the CPS system because grandparents need information on how to navigate the CPS system. We hear about legal issues when a parent just drops off the children and leave without proper paperwork for the grandparent to provide educational, medical, or financial assistance for the children.

TP: With the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) implementation right around the corner, what opportunities do you see for Texas to take advantage of this legislation to meet those needs? [For more information on FFPSA and how it can be used to support kinship caregivers, see our report: Family First Prevention Services Act: A Shift in the Right Direction for Families.]

MB: The opportunity to draw from those federal funds would allow us to help children that have not entered the state’s custody who are placed with a grandparent or kinship caregiver. Those funds would immediately equip them by providing the necessary things so that the children enter a secure home that kinship caregivers will and can provide for them.

TP: How do you hope to see a kinship navigator program implemented in Texas?

MB: In practice, I want kinship caregivers to be able to call whichever agency is assigned as the kinship navigator, do an intake form, and then be assigned to a caseworker that can assess their needs. I want that same agency to have the ability to provide all the things that the family needs. For instance, many families need legal assistance and to be able to obtain vital statistics. They need to be counseled on the options they have. Families also need emotional support. They often need financial assistance or help paying for utilities or rent, so they need help applying for benefits. I have seen that families need access to clothing closets and food pantries. They need help with mental health assessments for the children in their care who have experienced trauma or need help meeting the needs of children with disabilities. Families need someone to help them with the necessary referrals to have these assessments done. They also need help with school enrollments. Any sort of kinship navigator program needs to connect them to those supports, not just give them a referral.

TP: For those in our audience that may be looking at how to get connected, can you tell our audience what your support groups look like and the benefits you have seen for kinship caregivers who attend? Also, how can kinship caregivers get connected to these?

MB: We invite a community resource to come and speak to the group and have some coffee and snacks. We introduce ourselves if there are new grandparents raising grandchildren. Then we allow them to tell why they are there, and the group takes different forms. I am there to facilitate the conversations. Sometimes there is crying and awareness that they are not alone and that there is hope to find help in their situation. We have a website and a Facebook page that will give them access to the support groups or other resources. I also co-facilitate a quarterly support group with DFPS that is offered to kinship caregivers that are in the CPS system. 

Frontline for Children | September 2020


The Moment is Now: Children’s Bureau August/September Newsletter: Vol. 21, No. 6 (Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau)

This edition of the Children’s Bureau Express newsletter “is a call to action across public, private, philanthropic, and faith-based sectors to chart a different course to strengthen families through primary prevention and create a more just and equitable system focused on child and family well-being. It is a consensus statement that stresses how we must all value and invest in families and communities.” The newsletter highlights equity issues across elements of the child welfare system, from foster care environments to family courts and the justice system.

TexProtects Takeaway: We stand with the authors of this brief in demanding that we do more to demonstrate our commitment to families – especially families of color. The escalating costs and bleak outcomes of our child welfare system make clear that we must do more. The cost of inaction is too high.

Kids’ Share 2020: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children through 2019 and Future Projections (Urban Institute) 

“To inform policymakers, children’s advocates, and the general public about how public funds are spent on children, this 14th edition of the annual Kids’ Share report provides an updated analysis of federal expenditures on children from 1960 to 2019. This year’s Kids’ Share report also provides a baseline view of public expenditures before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

TexProtects Takeaway: Only 9% of the federal budget is spent on children and that is expected to decline to 73% over the next decade. Our increased understanding of the long term social and fiscal impacts of early life experiences should drive stronger investments in our children to ensure we are not faced with the same challenges tomorrow that we have today.

 Supporting Families and Child Care Providers during the Pandemic with a Focus on Equity (Child Trends)

“The purpose of this brief is to explore the specific challenges that families and child care providers are facing, especially those who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and to offer potential strategies that state and local policymakers and administrators can pursue to address families’ and providers’ unique needs.”

TexProtects Takeaway: 40% of childcare centers have reported that, without support, they will be forced to close due to the pandemic. Lack of safe childcare options puts children at risk and impacts parents’ ability to work.


Biological Aging in Childhood and Adolescence Following Experiences of Threat and Deprivation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (Colich, N., Rosen, M., Williams, E., & McLaughlin, K.)

“This meta-analysis and systematic review suggests that biological aging following early life adversity, including earlier pubertal timing, advanced cellular aging, and accelerated thinning of the cortex, may be specific to children and adolescents who experienced violent or traumatic experiences early in childhood. No such effect was found for children who experienced deprivation or poverty in the absence of violence or trauma. These findings highlight a potential role of accelerated biological aging in health disparities associated with early life trauma, and a potential target for early interventions.”

TexProtects Takeaway: The evidence on the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) continues to grow. Child safety and well-being are critical for healthy futures. This upcoming legislative session, TexProtects will work with policymakers to draft legislation that would ensure Texas creates a strategic and evidence-informed approach to preventing and mitigating the effects of ACEs.

Improving Children’s Well-Being through Responsible Fatherhood Programs (OPRE, Healthy Marriage & Responsible Fatherhood – HMRF, Mathematica, & Public Strategies)

“Fathers’ parenting engagement (that is, the ways in which fathers interact with their children) is linked to many aspects of children’s well-being, from health outcomes to academic and social outcomes. However, nonresident fathers with low incomes often face barriers to being fully engaged.” This brief explores how responsible fatherhood programs might improve children’s well-being by supporting fathers’ parenting engagement.

TexProtects Takeaway: A strong father-child relationship is associated with fewer behavioral problems and decreased likelihood of smoking and dropping out of school later in life. Many HOPES sites around the state are implementing fatherhood programs as part of their comprehensive prevention work to ensure early relational health between children and all their caregivers. Connection matters.

Central Referral Systems Help Reduce Contributors to Family Toxic Stress (Chapin Hall at University of Chicago)

This brief describes an evaluation of the Help Me Grow system model, which includes a central referral system to orient families to the social services they need by phone, and outreach by staff to build community stakeholders’ understanding of child development and referral processes. “Through interviews with Help Me Grow staff members and pediatricians, and focus groups held with parents and community-based organizations, the study team investigated how these different stakeholders use Help Me Grow, and how these supports impact children’s developmental journeys.”

TexProtects Takeaway:  Texas has six communities who are working to implement the Help Me Grow model and the Department of State Health Services is serving as the hub for this innovative work. With an integrated framework, these systems ensure families can access the right services at the right time and that stakeholders know more about the needs and capacity within their community.

Program Integrates Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Assessment into Primary Health Care; Connects Families with Services (Chapin Hall at The University of Chicago)

“Support, Connect, and Nurture (SCAN) is a program that integrates Family Development Specialist services and assessment of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) into health care provided to expectant parents and parents receiving routine health care in a Patient Centered Medical Home. The key goals of SCAN are patient education and influencing help-seeking behavior related to social determinants of health.” This brief highlights a recent longitudinal study of the SCAN intervention, including the experiences of adult patients and health clinic staff who took part in the intervention from 2015-2019.   

TexProtects Takeaway: Texas healthcare providers could use the SCAN model to better reduce provider stress and facilitate conversations about trauma and resiliency with caregivers. A strategic plan on preventing and mitigating the effects of ACEs could include looking into programs like SCAN as part of a cross-sector approach to increase family well-being.


Connecting the Dots: A Resource Guide for Meeting the Needs of Expectant and Parenting Youth, their Children, and their Families (Center for the Study of Social Policy)

This resource guide, designed to support expectant and parenting youth in foster care (mothers and fathers), strives to: “1) provide a comprehensive set of resources for jurisdictions working to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being for these young families; 2) enhance knowledge of evidence-informed and promising practices that holistically address the developmental needs of expectant and parenting youth in foster care (EPY), their children, and families; and 3) build evidence for effective interventions that are informed by and specifically target EPY.”

TexProtects Takeaway: The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) makes available a federal match to provide pregnant and parenting foster youth with evidence-based substance use treatment, mental healthcare, and in-home parenting programs. Texas must capitalize on this opportunity to offer transformational services to survivors of abuse and neglect as they work to break the cycle and provide a safe home for their own children.

Recommendations for Trauma-Informed Care Under the Family First Prevention Services Act (National Child Traumatic Stress Network & Chapin Hall at University of Chicago)

This resource outlines “recommendations for how jurisdictions can understand Family First’s policy requirements for trauma-informed approaches and ensure that implementation of the law meets the trauma-related needs of children, youth, and families.”

TexProtects Takeaway: Given the prevalence of trauma in system-involved children and their families, child welfare staff must be well-trained in understanding and navigating trauma responses. Trauma informed strategies help build trust and engagement between staff and families ensuring better decisions and outcomes within the child protection system. FFPSA can help fund this kind of training, if Texas policymakers make it a priority.

How Will Texas Implement FFPSA?

Texas has moved one step closer to creating a state plan that leverages federal funding to prioritize prevention and family preservation.

In February 2018, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) which makes available a federal match for state investments in evidence-based and trauma informed supports to families at risk BEFORE a removal occurs. These services address the core drivers of child abuse and neglect including substance use, mental health, and parenting challenges. However, in order to successfully leverage this opportunity, state leaders have a number of crucial decisions to make.

Last legislative session, TexProtects championed Senate Bill 355 authored by Senator West which required the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to develop a strategic plan outlining how they intend to implement the provisions of FFPSA. That plan was released earlier this week.

DFPS’ strategic plan highlights the alignments between the goals of the Department and the goals of FFPSA and offers information and implementation options to support the budgetary decisions in the 87th legislative session that will largely determine the scope of FFPSA’s transformational potential. We applaud the prioritization of prevention and support of kinship caregivers in the state’s plan; however, the plan leaves many critical questions unanswered and may not do enough to target populations at risk of entering foster care.

For a quick overview of the top three items of good news in the plan and the top three areas of concern – see below.

First the good news:

  1. DFPS was awarded $50.3 million in Family First Transition Act funds to help implement the provisions of FFPSA and they intend to utilize $33.9 million of those dollars on prevention. They will be spending the rest of the funds on a Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) pilot and on IT changes.
  2. DFPS is investing in efforts to better serve informal kinship placements who don’t have as many supports. To ensure caregivers in informal kinship placements know what is available and can be better linked to services, DFPS has issued grants to four providers to complete needs assessments, evaluations, and pilots to support the development of a kinship navigator program. DFPS has also invested in training for 2-1-1 staff on the needs of kinship caregivers they plan to create a marketing campaign designed to ensure kinship caregivers are aware of the resources available to them through 2-1-1.
  3. The DFPS plan includes seven options for expanding prevention services, each with varying degrees of complexity and cost. Approximately half of these options capitalize on and expand the innovative and effective community networks that have been built through the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) division of DFPS. This is a smart solution that will enable Texas to quickly build on existing infrastructure to better support families.

Areas of concern within the DFPS plan include the following:

  1. The state stands to lose $26 million in Title IV-E eligible dollars per year unless there are increased placements available in family-like settings or a QRTP. This will need to be accounted for somewhere in the budget but must not be taken from children and families who are already receiving effective prevention services.
  2. 43% of families who have had an open Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) case have another case of child maltreatment within five years of completing services. DFPS’ definition of who is eligible for prevention services includes families participating in FBSS. While the children and families served by this stage of service naturally and most closely fit the broad federal eligibility criteria of children who are at imminent risk of entering foster care, DFPS acknowledged in this plan that many of the provided services are not evidence-based and do not meet the FFPSA standards. To use this funding as intended will require a significant shift in mentality and accountability for the quality and outcomes of services offered to families in FBSS.
  3. DFPS can define who is eligible for prevention services; however, their suggested definition only captures families who are already engaging with the system. Their definition includes families with an open FBSS case, children who have already been in care but are now are at risk of placement disruption or re-entry, and pregnant and parenting youth in Child Protective Services (CPS) custody. There is room for improvement here to consider other populations at risk as well as more upstream options that support families BEFORE they have an open case and CPS involvement.

Now, it is up to lawmakers to decide the best way to move forward, and the potential impact on children and families will largely be decided on their willingness to prioritize prevention and family preservation. Be on the lookout for the release of our FFPSA Brief that will outline this federal legislation and the Texas plan in more detail later this month.

State of the State: Texas Child Welfare System Trends

Key data on the state of children in Texas, including the impact of trauma and abuse, child fatalities, numbers on the foster care system, paths to prevention, home visiting outcomes, and more.

View the Report.

87th Texas Legislative Session Wrap Up

Smart solutions to child abuse and neglect were put forward by TexProtects during the legislative session, including accomplishments, missed opportunities.

View the Report.

Child Abuse and Neglect Risks During COVID-19

Summary of how economic recessions, unemployment, increases in family violence, mental health, substance abuse, and parental stress have correlated to increases in child abuse and neglect.

View the Report.

Family First Prevention Services Act: A Shift in the Right Direction

How federal investment in ensuring children can remain safely at home rather than entering the foster care system can benefit Texas children.

View the Report.