As part of the curriculum provided through the Early Childhood Leadership Fellowship, each Class of 2023 Fellow met with LORE Storytelling and worked on their personal narratives explaining their passion for early childhood advocacy. We are proud to publish the stories of several of the Fellows who shared their personal stories during their recent graduation.
By Crystal Ann Hall, Northeast Ohio (NE) Outreach Supervisor for Help Me Grow Class of 2023 Early Childhood Leadership Fellowship
Allow me to take you on a journey, a story that weaves together the essence of home, the strength of family, and the need for transformative change. Growing up, my notion of home was an intimate tapestry, woven from the comforting scent of my grandmother's arroz con habichuelas and the resonance of my grandfather's unwavering voice, echoing through the walls of a house that had already nurtured three generations. But there was something unique about my story; I was a child of the state, a ward of a different kind, finding solace and belonging in the loving embrace of my grandparents, through what we now understand as kinship adoption.
Watch Crystal Hall share her experience of thriving through kindship care.
In those formative years, my grandparents, despite their unwavering love, faced a significant challenge. They were denied access to the resources and support systems that are typically available to foster parents or adoptive parents. We existed in a peculiar limbo, not fitting the conventional mold and often slipping through the cracks when it came to receiving assistance.
Fast forward to 2020, a staggering 32 years after my birth and 29 years after I was legally adopted, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services partnered with Kinnect to launch the Ohio Kinship and Adoption Navigator Program in August. This initiative is a beacon of hope for kinship families like mine, offering much-needed support and resources. However, our journey is far from over.
According to the 2023 Ohio Annual Progress Report, from July 1, 2021, to May 11, 2022, there were approximately 16,000 children in foster care. At the end of each month in this period, on average, 26.15% of these children were placed with kinship families. This statistic underscores the critical role kinship families play in providing stability and love to children in need.
My grandparents, natives of Puerto Rico, journeyed to Ohio in pursuit of a better and more stable life. My grandmother, standing at a mere 4 feet and 11 inches, devoted herself to working within the church and community, assisting those whose English proficiency hindered them from pursuing their GEDs, job opportunities, or vocational programs. She selflessly served as a cook, providing nourishment to those in need. On the other hand, my grandfather, an Army veteran and retired police officer, was a man of few words. With his long black hair, dark brown eyes, and a presence that could command a room, he rarely spoke. It was nothing short of magical how he could convey so much with a simple nod of his head.
When I arrived in their lives, not by choice but by love, I brought with me a bundle of needs and legal complexities that strained their already limited resources. Retirement had bestowed upon them a fixed income, a melody that could not be stretched to harmonize with the sudden crescendo of my needs. They navigated a labyrinth of paperwork, bureaucratic systems that failed to acknowledge their newfound roles as parents, and financial constraints that seemed insurmountable. The language of bureaucracy twisted around them like ivy, while their finances felt as though they couldn't stretch far enough.
Yet, in the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, my grandparents did not falter. They poured into me the richness of their time, the wisdom of their years, and the invaluable lessons from their life experiences. They taught me that love knows no bounds—it creates resources from intangible qualities such as support, understanding, and sacrifice.
Under their guidance, I learned to read from cherished family books that had weathered the passage of years. I discovered that problems could be solved not with money but with creativity and unwavering determination. And I navigated life not with a map of entitlement but with a compass of resilience, guided by their unwavering love.
My story serves as a poignant reminder of the profound gap in our system: the lack of adequate support for kinship adoptions and families that defy traditional norms. My grandparents' experience underscores the urgency of creating more inclusive and accessible support systems that recognize and celebrate all forms of family structures.
Kinship adoption families require more than just financial assistance; they need comprehensive support that includes language assistance, navigable legal systems, and recognition of their unique familial roles. These children and families deserve an equitable chance of success.
We bear a collective responsibility to ensure that no child, regardless of their circumstances, is deprived of the opportunity to thrive. This commitment necessitates the creation of bridges between programs and policies, ensuring seamless access to resources and a genuine acknowledgment of the diverse needs of our children.
As we stand here today, let us remember that my story is but one thread in the fabric of countless kinship families across our nation. The statistics speak volumes, and the struggles persist. It is within our power, within this room, to shape the future and make our system more equitable.
Let us work together to ensure that every child can find their sanctuary, just as I did in the loving arms of my grandparents. Thank you.