Safety a Disney movie shows a freshman at clemson fostering

Safety, Clemson, Disney, and Kinship Care in one movie

Safety, Clemson, Disney, and Kinship Care in one movie

Great movie from Disney for an understanding of Kinship care

Disney recently released the movie "Safety," depicting a football player's tremendous story at Clemson University who took on legal guardians' responsibilities to his 11-year-old brother. This man, Ray McElrathbey , only a Freshman at the time, volunteered to provide for the care of his younger brother, Fahmarr. The latter had recently entered the foster care system due to their mother's struggle with substance abuse and Father's gambling addiction.

McElrathbey explained that he did not want to worry about what might happen to Fahmar if he was to return to their mother in Atlanta and did not want to leave him in the hands of the foster care system. McElrathbey did what it took to provide for Fahmarr, using his scholarship funds and living with Fahmarr in off-campus student housing. Fortunately, after strong advocacy efforts on McElrathbey and Fahmarr's behalf, the NCAA agreed to waive its rule prohibiting athletes from obtaining benefits not provided to the general school population. As such, McElrathbey was able to receive assistance such as transportation and child care for Fahmarr.

The movie depicts the powerful dynamic between these two brothers, McElrathbey's selflessness, commitment, and determination to his brother, and the loving support of teammates, coaches, and friends all pulling together to build a support system for this unexpected family of two living on Clemson's Campus.

McElrathbey and Fahmarr's story, while certainly unique in its unfolding, highlights a need all too common in our foster care system. Every day children come in to care needing placement, and relatives are typically the first stop for social services looking for viable placement options. Family members are sought first because children with family members can more easily maintain their sense of connection and belonging. Family members are also most likely to stick it out with a child with challenging behaviors, who might be deemed too great a burden for foster families. However, for various reasons, often financial, relatives cannot always provide for family members, and social services must do their best to seek other placement options.

In 2018, after five years of advocacy efforts, Virginia State Lawmakers passed a kinship guardian assistance program called KinGap to address this funding gap. Before this, little funding was available to relatives taking on a child's family member's care. This lack of funding created a barrier to relatives from coming forward to accept this tremendous financial responsibility. To address this financial barrier, KinGap allows for monthly payments for children who enter foster care and are placed with a relative for at least six months and for whom reunification with the birth family is no longer an option.

This relief effort addresses a longstanding need in the foster care system that people like McElrathbey and his brother helped bring to public attention. While there is still a long way to go in setting up Kinship families for success, the value of strengthening relatives to support their own cannot be underestimated. As awareness for this need increases, programs like KinGap have the chance to expand their reach, better supporting and bringing together families like McElrathbey to heal, inspire and thrive. 

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