In some areas, the kinship family may be an underutilized or misunderstood resource. The old adage, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," has sometimes been used to justify why grandparents, other relatives, and family friends are not recruited or developed as foster parents. Current practice models focus on the strengths of family networks, recognizing that while some family members may be less functional and less capable of helping other family members, most family networks have members with functional strengths (Hillside Institute for Family Connections, 2014).
Recruiting kinship families involves a slightly different approach than that used in recruiting non-relatives. Kinship families often enter the child welfare system during a family crisis. New York allows relatives of a child to be certified or approved as an emergency foster home if the child is being removed from his/her home by a court order or if the child's case record indicates a compelling reason to place him/her with a relative.
Under these circumstances, safety and risk assessments and home studies are done on an expedited basis. For example, within seven days, the placement agency must submit a Statewide Central Register database form of each person 18 years of age or older in the home [18 NYCRR 443.7]. Models for engaging kinship caregivers include 30 Days to Family and Family Finding.
30 Days to Family operates on the philosophy that all families include members who are willing and able to care for children. 30 Days to Family specialists are expected to be relentless in their search for parents, grandparents, and siblings of children in care. The goal is to place 70% of children served with safe and appropriate relatives within 30 days of entering foster care. (ocfs.ny.gov/programs/fostercare/recruitment/img/PM_ch3_30days.pdf)
Family Finding is based on the core belief that capable family members can be located and engaged to meet the needs of youth in care. Originally designed for older youth who have spent many years in foster care, Family Finding offers methods for discovering and engaging relatives to meet youths' needs for relational and/or legal permanency and help them build a "lifetime network." (ocfs.ny.gov/programs/fostercare/recruitment/img/PM_ch3_famfinding.pdf)
If the child is being placed with urgency, kinship families may need supports from the agency to complete their home study and a personalized orientation session focusing on their immediate needs (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). Recruiting kinship homes can also be a planful undertaking. Children who cannot be reunited with their birth parents need permanent homes, and kin may be explored as permanency resources. This also can include non-related "fictive kin" who have a significant relationship with the child, such as godparents or family friends.
In New York State, relatives are engaged to care for children through a variety of arrangements: informal care, custody/guardianship, direct placement, kinship foster care, and adoption. These different types of arrangements have an impact on the supports and benefits kinship caregivers may be eligible to receive. It is critical that kin fully understand their options to make informed decisions in the best interest of the child and family, as well as in consideration of the financial implications of those decisions. Agency staff should be prepared to clearly explain the full range of options to prospective kinship caregiver families, and to expedite approval processes. One of these options, formal kinship foster care, which provides a higher level of financial support than informal care, currently is underutilized in many counties in New York State (Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, 2018).
(For more information, see Appendix 3-1: Kinship Chart.)
See what's new inside the NYS Spotlight below
If placement with kin is not possible, a kin-first philosophy recognizes that relatives or kin may have important relationships with the child that should be nurtured. Connections to kin help build a young person's sense of identity and provide access to important practical and emotional supports, such as a place to celebrate holidays, a listening ear, financial support, and guidance from a caring adult.
Older youth who have been in foster care for a long time may benefit from reestablishing connections with appropriate relatives for emotional or legal permanency. Internet-based search tools can be used to locate extended family members who might be willing to provide foster care to a child. A variety of child-focused recruitment models, some of which are described in Chapter 5, have developed systematic techniques to find and engage kin.
Despite the increasing value of placing children with kin, major barriers still exist. There is widespread consensus that agencies must have these key principles in place in order to move this work forward:
From WikiHow for Kinship Foster Care (http://www.grandfamilies.org/wikiHow-for-Kinship-Foster-Care)
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The New York State Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP) provides financial support to kin caregivers (see expanded definition of kin below) that some of the other options do not. While not all relatives desire to be kinship foster parents, agency staff should be prepared to clearly explain the full range of options to prospective kinship caregiver families, and to expedite approval processes.
Kinship caregivers who serve as foster parents for a child for six months may be eligible for New York's Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP). The program is designed to allow a foster child to achieve a permanent placement with a kinship guardian. It provides financial support and, in most cases, medical coverage for the child, beginning with the child's discharge from foster care to kinship guardianship. The level of financial support is similar to the maintenance payments received while the child was in foster care. Parental rights do not have to be terminated for the relative to assume guardianship of the child (OCFS, 2018a).
In 2018, the definition of a "prospective relative guardian" was expanded to include an adult with a positive relationship with the child including, but not limited to, step-parent, godparent, neighbor or family friend; and an individual who is related to a half-sibling of the child through blood, marriage, or adoption, and where such person is also the prospective or appointed relative guardian of such half-sibling.
In addition, KinGAP payments may now be made to the kin guardian until a child's 18th birthday if the child entered a KinGAP agreement prior to age 16, or, upon consent of the child, until the child attains 21 years of age if certain criteria are met (OCFS, 2018b).
Relatives caring for children through arrangements other than foster care or KinGAP may be still eligible for a cash grant through Temporary Assistance (TA). Local districts or agencies may also refer to TA as the non-parent caregiver grant.
Detailed information about the options for kinship caregivers is available at New York State's information and referral service, Kinship Navigator (www.nysnavigator.org) and OCFS' website (https://ocfs.ny.gov/kinship/).
Supervisor Deb Pesola from Orange County shared these practical steps to complement and invigorate your current kinship process.