Episode 15: A Conversation With The Maryland Department Of Human Services

Trina Townsend is the Kinship Navigation Program Administrator with the Department of Human Services. She talks with Quinton Askew, president and CEO of 211 Maryland, about kinship programs, support and services.

Show Notes

1:24 How the Department of Human Services helps Marylanders

2:49 What is kinship care?

6:01 Kinship support

12:13 Guardianship Assistance Program

13:07 Kinship navigation services

14:11 Affidavits for care

17:21 Awareness of kinship services

20:30 Misconceptions about kinship care

21:10 Enhanced kinship navigation pilot program

23:16 Staying connected with kinship care month


Quinton Askew, CEO & President 211 Maryland (1:24)

We are excited to have our guest, Trina Townsend, Kinship Specialist, with the Maryland Department of Human Services.

How The Department Of Human Services Helps Marylanders

Quinton Askew (1:37)

Appreciate you joining us today. So, can you tell us a little bit about your role, the role of the Department of Human Services and what that department provides for Marylanders?

Trina Townsend, Kinship Navigation Program Administrator (1:45)

Yes, currently, our Department of Human Services is the state’s primary human service provider.

We help vulnerable Maryland populations buy healthy foods, we help with energy bills, and we help with obtaining medical assistance in various services that our customers may need.

We have 24 local Department of Social Services. And with each one, we aggressively pursue opportunities to assist people in economic need and provide preventive services.

One of which is where I come in is with the Maryland Kinship Navigation Program. I currently am the Kinship Navigation Specialist Program Administrator and recently became the Policy Analyst for the kinship program. So, I’m so excited to be on that work in that capacity to help strengthen policies and practices for our kinship community.

What Is Kinship Care?

Quinton Askew  (2:49)

What actually is kinship care? Can you tell us a little about what actually kinship means and provides what this kinship care mean?


Absolutely, I’m glad you asked because there are so many people that did not even have an understanding of what kinship is – that it’s something they had applied for.

Kinship care is a relative that is caring for a child’s needs in their home 24/7 due to a serious hardship of another family member. Right now, we have a population of grandfamilies. Since COVID, we’ve seen a rise in older siblings taking care of the younger siblings, as well as a host of nieces, nephews and cousins that have also stepped in to fill in the gap.

And, I do want to make it clear that a relative, as defined by Maryland, is an adult relative to the child of blood relation by marriage or within five degrees.

Quinton Askew (3:55)

Okay, and so this is basically someone who was not the the actual parent of the individual, but they’re taking care of other relatives’ child.

Trina Townsend (4:04)

That is correct. Yes.

Quinton Askew (4:06)

And, so I know you mentioned a couple of different ways individuals could be considered. Can you repeat those for us, but who can actually be considered a kinship caregiver?

Trina Townsend (4:15)

Yes, well, we do have two different type of kinship providers in Maryland. We have informal kinship care, which is where there’s a living arrangement in which a relative of a child was not in the care and custody or guardianship of the local Department of Social Services.

The relative provides the care and custody of the child due to a serious family hardship, and we can get into those family hardships when we talk about the health care affidavit later on.

Then we have the formal kinship relative. Those are relatives that have a child that has been in foster care or within the care and custody of the department, and they have decided to go through the process of becoming like a restrictive foster parent or relative. And they go through the same process as foster care parents according to COMAR (Code of Maryland Regulations).

On both sides – formal and informal – it can be inclusive of grandparents, aunts, uncles, grandfamilies, cousins and older siblings.

And then, we also have a population called fictive kin, which is a new terminology that people may become more aware of. But, that is when it is a godparent or individual that the family or the child identifies as having a long-standing closely bonded relationship. It could be your coach, it could be a faith-based individual that the child has become very bonded with. Or, it can be that godparent that has been there since birth or whenever that person entered their life, but that is who we consider fictive kin.

Kinship Support

Quinton Askew (6:01)

That’s really interesting. I’m sure there are a lot of legal questions that folks might have when they’re assuming care of their relative’s child. So, are there similar legal services available? And if so, like, how does someone connect to what is available legally to help someone understand this?


So legally, DHS does not provide legal advice. But we do advise all caregivers of options regarding custody and guardianship. And then, we can refer to legal services programs as requested.

Every jurisdiction does have legal services. That is where we would connect the family with a Kinship Navigator. So, all four of our jurisdictions have a specific pinpoint person at the Department of Social Services that help with kinship navigation. And they could help provide websites and resources for legal.

Quinton Askew  (6:55)

So, if I were a caregiver, what support is available?

Trina Townsend (7:05)

Well, the best support is me. I had to say that because not only in my capacity do I work with kinship, caregivers, but I have the lived experience of taking care of my niece and nephew in my home.

So, I know what it’s like to have a sudden interruption and having to restructure everything about my life to care for loved ones.

And, so, some of the services that I have found beneficial not only for me but for some of our kinship caregivers that we work with is number one, the kinship navigation program. Having someone to connect with that tells you about support within your local community. We don’t know everything, and knowing that you are a kinship caregiver, some people don’t understand even the terminology. So, I relate it to being an aunt. I didn’t know it was a kinship caregiver.

Trina Townsend (8:07)

That light bulb moment like, wow, I’m a kinship caregiver. I never knew that.

I want everyone out there who’s a grandparent, aunt, uncle to know that this is nothing you apply for. This is just something you are if you have the children in your home.

But, some of the benefits is we do have the temporary cash assistance that our caregivers can apply for specifically for kinship caregivers. But, it would be the child only grant, which is based solely on the child’s income, not the household income. So, that is one benefit that a lot of our caregivers are not aware of.

We do also have a website. It does outline our SNAP benefits, which is the old terminology for food stamps. That is income based. Also, how to apply for medical assistance and how to apply for some of the other services that are available for our kinship families.

Most of those that I mentioned are for our informal kinship that do not have children that have been in foster care or the care and custody.

For formal, they do have to go through the same process as foster care parents, as far as the training, the home studies, the background clearances, and things of that nature, but they would be awarded, if approved, a monthly stipend that is the same as our foster parents.

Quinton Askew (9:49)

So, not only do they have access to this information if someone calls, they have access to someone who has sort of that lived experience and will kind of guide them through what they could potentially expect.

Trina Townsend (10:01)

Yes, they do. And, they also would have texting. In May, we partnered with 211 Maryland. We launched the 211 Kinship program where they can text MDKinCares to 898-211 and receive monthly encouraging messages.

211 Maryland offers text message alert programs which provide region-specific resource information or provide disaster alerts. Text STOP to the same number to unsubscribe. Full SMS terms at https://211md.org/sms/ will also apply.

They can also receive updates on websites. Just understanding that there’s a community of unity out there, where nothing but kinship, and we come together. And, I just love that we have that partnership.

Quinton Askew (10:39)

So that’s something we are excited about as well. And so with texting program, you know, someone subscribes, and they get access to it. As you mentioned, they hope they’re able to get some helpful information if they subscribe to it.

Trina Townsend (10:54)

Yes, if they subscribe, which is a free service to all Maryland kinship families, whether informal or formal, or fictive kin, we’re all the community of unity, but they will receive monthly updates, encouraging messages, along with resources to support the kinship community.

Those messages or text blasts, they go out twice a month. So, they’ll receive information that they can really use throughout their adventure of being a kinship provider. And even so, they can also go to the 211 website and obtain more available resources just by plugging in their information of what location they’re in their Zip Code.

And, they can also get a wealth of knowledge and resources by being on the 211 webpage.

Quinton Askew (11:44)

That’s great. And, we appreciate the opportunity. Can you mention the keyword again, one more time, so folks know?

Trina Townsend (11:49)

Yes. The keyword for signing up for the Kinship subscription is MDKINCARES.

Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP)

Quinton Askew (12:13)

They’ll get connected. Yes. So, I know there’s a financial assistance program called the Guardianship Assistance Program. So like, what does that do? And how does that help families in need of some financial support?

Trina Townsend (12:25)

Yes, the Permanent Guardianship Assistance Program or GAT, can also be found on our website for more information. But just, in a nutshell, the Guardianship Assistance Program is for caregivers or relatives that are caring for a child that has been in the care and custody of the department. So, they have been in foster care. And that is means providing ongoing assistance to those relatives that may not want to adopt or may want to have that supplementary income to continue to support that child without terminating the parental rights of their loved ones.

Kinship Navigation Program

Quinton Askew (13:07)

And, so for again, we know that individuals who are trying to seek and connect services whether they call your office. When someone contacts the office or one of the departments across the state, what is that experience like? What should they expect when contacting the office to get information when they call, like who’s on the other end?

Trina Townsend (13:26)

Well, the first thing I hope they always experience is a warm welcome. And, I also expect that and hope they will receive more information about how to get connected and how to continue to support a family member in their home.

So, they would ask specifically for the Kinship Navigation Program. Or, they can also ask for the Family Investment Program. But if you start with kinship, you’ll get everything else all in one glove. So, start there, and they’ll take over the rest.

Affidavits For Care

Quinton Askew (14:11)

Everything else will work itself out. Also, I know there are two different types of consent that caregivers can get – there’s consent for healthcare affidavit and an education affidavit for caregivers. Can you talk a bit about the healthcare affidavit, generally what that is and how that helps support individuals?

Trina Townsend (14:32)

Absolutely. So the health care affidavit or ATA is for a relative providing informal kinship care for a child, and they may consent to health care on behalf of the child if the court has not appointed a guardian of the child or awarded custody to an individual other than the relative providing kinship care.

And, the relative verifies the informal kinship through the affidavit. And, that form is filled out and sent to my attention, and we confirm that that child is living in their home 24/7.

Unfortunately, right now, and until some of the legislation changes, fictive kin is not included in the healthcare affidavit consent, at this time.

But anyone that has blood-related can go to their local Department of Social Services or local health department and pick up a healthcare affidavit to assist with obtaining health care services, with obtaining mental health services and applying for medical assistance.

Quinton Askew (15:41)

And so if I’m taking care of a nephew or cousin of mine in my care and that and knowing that he or she needs some medical support, medical attention, dentist, or as you said, like mental health support, which is important, you know, I can work with your office to get this particular affidavit in order to provide that support because we are blood relatives. We don’t necessarily have to go through the legal process, there’s an easier way to get support.

Trina Townsend (16:07)

That is correct. We do provide the healthcare affidavit, and it would have to be updated once a year. So annually, we don’t want to make it once a month. It’s too tedious for our caregivers.

Quinton Askew (16:21)

That’s right. And so along with that, there’s the education affidavit. And so how does that help, you know, support caregivers?

Trina Townsend (16:29)

Yeah, the educational affidavit can be picked up at the local Board of Education or the child’s local school with the educational affidavit. It is also for informal kinship families, and that is to assist with enrolling a child into school and assist with giving the child, as needed, special education services. So, obtaining that 504 Plan, the IEP, that is what that educational affidavit is for. And, if you also speak with a PPW (Pupil Personnel Worker), they also have what’s called a McKinney-Vento law that also, in certain circumstances, assists with transportation and back-to-school supplies.

Awareness Of Kinship Services

Quinton Askew (17:21)

Do you find that parents or caregivers sometimes may not be aware of these two services?

Trina Townsend (17:46)

I have. And, since I’ve been in this capacity over the past year, I’ve noticed that a lot of caregivers don’t know what services and support is available within their local community.

I didn’t know as a kinship caregiver because I was just the aunt. So, I never knew that there was even a program that could have benefited me and the children in my home. So knowing that I’m able to connect and support other kinship caregivers across the state of Maryland is truly my passion and my purpose. So, even if they don’t know, they will know, because we are making sure that kinship is screamed across every jurisdiction.

Quinton Askew (18:29)

That’s great. It’s always good to have someone who has that experience of background. And, when you were fortunate enough to take on the task and support the family members, what was that experience like for you for someone maybe listening in in the same position that you are just sort of unsure or uncertain? How was that experience like for you and your relatives, how was that experience?

Trina Townsend (18:54)

I took on my niece and nephew, who were teenagers at the time. Already having two children of my own. I went from a single-parent family of two to a single-parent family of five. And, I would say the scariest part was the unknown, not knowing if you would have the financial support to sustain everyone in the home and really balancing out everyone’s particular characteristics because they went from being cousins to simultaneously becoming siblings.

And, so making sure that relationship still stays intact and also supporting my sister to help her get back on her feet so she can regain, you know, the physical custody of her children and really just making sure that we partner with the school to make sure they were aware, to make sure my niece and nephew and everything that they need educationally, and also making sure that mental health is so important. If you see something, you say something.

If you saw depression or they needed someone extra to talk to, you’re not afraid to speak up.

Quinton Askew (20:05)

That’s great and definitely, an important topic that you also mentioned. And, being able to support your loved ones, your sister, and supporting her children. Also, supporting the parents through the process, which is important.

Misconceptions About Kinship Care

Are there sort of misconceptions out there or myths about kinship care and just caring for family members that we need to be mindful of and think about and clarify?

Trina Townsend (20:31)

Yes, one of the myths I will say that I have heard is that there isn’t a kinship program in Maryland. And, I think that as people are aware of the terminology, people will be aware and more assertive of the program and the services available for every Marylander that is a kinship provider. And, we do have a very active and engaged kinship program. We are here to help. And, I just want to make sure that everyone knows that Maryland Kinship Program is not only growing, but we’re enhancing as we learn what the needs are.

Enhanced Kinship Navigation Pilot Program

Quinton Askew (21:10)

We’re going to be biased to say one of the best across the country here. So, within the office, how big is the office? Are there other community supports within the office or individuals connected to you?

Trina Townsend (21:29)

In the other 24 jurisdictions, every local Department of Social Services does have the Kinship Navigator. So, they do have that locally.

But we also have an Enhanced Kinship Navigation pilot program that has just been launched this year. And it is within seven jurisdictions. So, that is Kent, Garrett, Allegany, Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, and Frederick counties.

So, with that enhanced kinship navigation pilot program, we partnered with the Maryland Coalition of Families, MCF, and for the randomization process to provide kinship navigation based on a peer-to-peer support model.

And, we also partnered with the University of Maryland, which helps with doing the randomization process to compare our Maryland business as usual kinship navigation program with the MCF model to see how we can grow, enhance and improve.

Quinton Askew (22:38)

That’s great. Can you list off those seven jurisdictions? Again?

Trina Townsend (22:41)

I sure can. So, any kinship family that is in Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, Kent, Garrett, Allegany and Frederick county that is new to kinship. They can call and enroll in the Kinship Navigation pilot program.

Quinton Askew (23:04)

That’s providing a little more no wraparound services. But, no matter where you are in Maryland, you know, you have access to a kinship program no matter where you are.

Trina Townsend (23:11)

Yes, you do. And you have access to me with the best support.

Staying Connected With Kinship Care Month

Quinton Askew (23:16)

That’s right. And, as we wrap up, are there any social media handles or other ways for listeners to follow up and follow some of the kinship activities? I know we talked about the text messaging, are there any particular social media sites, Facebook, or other ways folks can stay informed about the department?

Trina Townsend (23:31)

about the department? Yes, DHS, or the Department of Human Services, has a Facebook page. They also have a Twitter page and LinkedIn. So if they just type in Department of Human Services, they will be able to connect on either one of those three platforms to connect with services.

And so stay updated not only on kinship but what’s happening in Maryland and what services and supports we have going across the state. I do have to say September is Kinship Awareness Month. So stay tuned for events and more action.

Quinton Askew (24:10)

Okay, so get signed up now so you can stay updated about what’s going on in September. So, in closing, is there anything else you’d like to share with us or that folks should know? You know, be mindful of September, which is Kinship Month, but also, you know, stay connected.

Trina Townsend (24:33)

I would like to say that my mission is to make kinship a lifestyle to enjoy. That is my motto. That is my passion. And I want kinship to feel less of a burden and more of a blessing for our kinship community because we’re better together, and it’s all about unity and spreading awareness. So, what I did not have as a kinship provider, I now want to give and support to those who are now.

Quinton Askew (25:03)

That’s great, and I appreciate that. Thank you again for joining us, and I would encourage anyone to subscribe to the texting program and connect with your local office to get kinship services.

What’s the 211 podcast was produced with the support of Dragon Digital Radio, at Howard Community College. 

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