July 22, 2020

Back to School Challenges for our Kinship Families

As I sit and write this, I am happy to say I am finished with all my back to school shopping for my son.  This year he is attending a school that requires uniforms, backpacks of certain colors only, plain black shoes, a black belt, specific school supplies, the list goes on and on.  My husband and I prepared; we knew about the cost of the 5 uniform shirts, shorts, pants, and cardigans that cost a small fortune, and made sure those were in the “back to school budget”.  I will now proudly brag to my friends how I am finished shopping for school and put all the clothes and supplies in a safe place ‘til school starts in August. 

Now, imagine, receiving a phone call and you are now the placement for three of your nieces and nephews.  Here we are, weeks before school starts, maybe a month. The financial impact of shopping for one additional child not budgeted for can significantly strain a tight family budget, let alone a sibling group.  I will be transparent and say uniforms are expensive, but even if we didn’t have to purchase them, I would have needed to purchase new clothes because children grow like weeds and need new clothes about every 4 months! I don’t know anyone who spends less than $150 (on the low end) on back to school clothes and shoes for children, not including school supplies.  Multiply that by the 3 children in this example and that is $450!  Most families, including many we work with at CPS, just don’t have this flexibility in their budget, nor do they have savings for this, especially during this difficult time in our country.  

I supervise a team of 10 kinship workers at CPS and they see the incredible sacrifices Kinship families make every day to keep their family together.  They turn dining rooms into bedrooms, move into the living room so all of the children can fit into one bedroom with two sets of bunk-beds and have a door that closes.  Grandmas and grandpas who are on social security and fixed incomes, figure out a way to make their budgets stretch just a little bit more each month to keep their grandchildren with family.  

For the last 17 years I have been at CPS, one way I have been able to help these amazing families and children is to help them receive back to school supplies.  My staff and I have been able to help pick out the perfect backpack, special first-day outfit, or new shoes from the generous donations to Partnerships for Children’s Rainbow Room and Back-to-School Backpack Distribution Day. The normalcy a new backpack gives children who would otherwise show up to school without, or with one that is old or a hand-me-down, is indescribable and helps a child feel less “out of place” in a new school.  When a child can have a new outfit on the first day of school and show off their special new shoes like everyone else, it gives them a chance to feel like they are going to fit in when their world may feel a bit out of place.  The donations to Partnerships For Children for Back-to-School don’t just help with tangible items like backpacks, pencils, and crayons, they help make a child’s world feel a little more normal.

-by Melissa Emmerth, LCSW, Child Protective Services Kinship Supervisor II