Relatives and family friends who step up when struggling parents can’t care for their children play an essential role in keeping countless kids out of foster care.
In New York, hundreds of these caregivers receive monthly financial payments that amount to thousands of dollars a year, through the state’s Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP). But here and across the nation, the money is still tight, and not everyone who takes in foster children qualifies.
Following legislation signed this week by Gov. Kathy Hochul, that will change for some eligible caregivers who are providing permanent homes for children who could otherwise be left in limbo. The legislation took effect Wednesday.
“The KinGAP program has been widely successful in giving children across New York who cannot remain safely with their parents the opportunity to reside with family members,” the Legal Aid Society which represents most foster youth in New York City stated in a press release. “With this legislation now law, more children across the state can benefit from the safety and stability that comes with being housed with adults that they know and trust.”
The new law involves children whose parents are voluntarily consenting to legal guardianship arrangements after a foster care placement with grandparents, uncles, cousins, relatives or close family friends. Previously, monthly payments to those children were not available through KinGAP until after their parents went through a termination of parental rights proceedings.
Termination of parental rights hearings in the family courts are considered the ultimate sanction, and often involve contentious proceedings for impoverished people who face significant domestic abuse, addiction, housing and mental health challenges.
Under New York’s new law, proposed by the state’s Office of Court Administration, newly eligible caregivers can receive one-time, upfront payments of $2,000, followed by hundreds of dollars in payments each month. The money can be used to support children’s basic needs and the educational needs of older youth.
Guardianships offer relatives and close family friends many of the rights and responsibilities of a parent. Guardians can authorize medical care, take kids on trips and perform other caregiving duties without the court scrutiny required in licensed foster homes. These godparents, nanas, grandpas and other kin perform all the necessary caregiving roles.
Although they play a vital role state and nationwide, in the past, kinship caregivers have not typically received the same monthly governmental stipends as foster or adoptive parents. In 2011, New York began offering similar payments to certain guardians through KinGAP, as long as the children had spent at least six months with the caregivers.
This year in Albany, advocates and court officials aimed to fill a gap in that KinGAP reform, by expanding the types of cases that are eligible. A relatively small number of families will be newly eligible, and the bill does not include additional state funding. But for those caregivers who will now receive payments, it could make all the difference, supporters of the legislation say.
“Through that gap in the law, we were seeing that these children are not able to access support that they would need to survive,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, the Queens Democrat who sponsored the bill.
The senate version of the bill was sponsored by state Sen. Jabari Brisport, a Brooklyn Democrat. Both are chairs of the children and families committees in their respective houses.
“Children who have been placed into the foster care system are some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” Brisport said in a statement emailed to The Imprint. “I’m very proud to have passed this KinGAP bill to help give more of New York’s children safe and stable lives.”
Youth advocates, experts and child welfare officials nationwide have long favored placements with relatives, considered the best possible option for children who can’t live safely with their parents. According to the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, last year, 44% of all children in foster care were placed with kin, a steady increase from a decade ago.
There are an estimated 200,000 relative caregivers in New York, and civil rights groups report they are likely to be older low-income people of color. But they don’t all know that financial help is available, particularly those living outside New York City.
Nearly 3,000 kids entered KinGAP between 2011 and 2019, state data show. But only one-fourth lived in counties outside of New York City, despite far higher foster care numbers in this expansive state. In the program’s first eight years, 19 counties appear to have never distributed KinGAP benefits.
Even with growing access to KinGAP benefits under the newly signed law, kin caregivers remain in high need of resources, and now more people will share the same pot of money. In response, youth and family advocates have sought a more stable, separate funding stream for KinGAP. Currently, counties pay through a foster care block grant from the state, which can lead to benefit cuts in bad economic times.
“Particularly in counties with more limited resources,” Moser said, “they’re having to spread foster care dollars more thinly if more children are going into KinGAP.”
Children and families need nonprofit news.
Nonprofit news needs you.
Donate today to support The Imprint in 2024.