Keeping it in the Family: The New York State Kinship Caregiver Program

By Matthea Ross, Albany Government Law Review

Background

Many programs in New York State are in danger of being cut due to budget cuts.  One example is the Kinship Caregiver Program.[1]  However, this program should be maintained because it provides children with the stability of family during times when their lives are being greatly disrupted. [2]

Kinship Care is defined as “the full time care, nurturing and protection of children by relatives, . . . godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child,”[3] including close family friends depending on the jurisdiction.[4]  Often considered a way of preserving the family, placing children with relatives helps children maintain those familial connections.[5] 

Over the past ten years the number of children living in households headed by a grandparent has grown by sixty-four percent to around 6.7 million.[6]  In 2005, six million children across the United States were “being raised in households headed by grandparents and other relatives.”[7]  Of these children, 2.5 million were living in these households without their parents present.[8]  In 2010, almost eight million children in the United States were being raised by non-parent relatives.[9]  Of the eight million, 200,000 children were in New York State.[10]  For one third of these children “a grandparent is their primary caregiver.”[11]

The parents of these children struggle with any number of issues including but not limited to substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, economic hardship, divorce, and domestic violence.[12]  Some parents are leaving children with grandparents because they have left the state to find work due to the bad economy.[13]  This can cause significant upheaval in a child’s life. [14]  To these children, grandparents can be a lifeline during these trying times.[15]  Additionally, placing children with family members who care for them prevents further disruption in the child’s life—as opposed to placing them with strangers, as may be the case with foster care—when there is already much turmoil.[16]

In New York, the Office of Children and Family Services created a program called the New York State Kinship Caregiver Program in 2006 to help persons who care for related children.[17]  This program supports kinship placements through a statewide network of programs “by promoting household stability and permanency through services for kinship caregivers and their kin.”[18]  Services, including counseling, legal information, support groups, parenting skills, and education, are delivered through community-based organizations.[19]  These organizations help grandparents and other relatives, or “kinship caregivers” face their many challenges such as accessing health, education, financial, and legal services for the children in their care.[20]

Kinship Programs vs. Traditional Foster Care

There are significantly more children being raised by non-parent relatives than are being raised in foster care.  “For every child in the foster care system, there are at least twenty children being raised by relatives, often by grandparents.”[21]  This not only keeps the family structure intact, it also saves the government money.[22]  Whereas traditional foster care costs the state about $22,000 per year per child, kinship programs cost only about $500 per child.[23]  If just half of the children being raised by relatives to enter the foster care system, the cost to taxpayers would be more than $6.5 billion per year.[24]

Studies done in Illinois and Wisconsin have found that when kinship care is supported children tend to spend less time in foster care.[25]  If fewer children were placed in foster care, the government may be able to save money.  Kinship programs are not adequately funded and are often unable to provide children and their relative caregivers with the support they need.

The Impact of Kinship Care on Children

Children in kinship arrangements often do not receive all of the services they need.[26]  With more funding and access to support services there might be a lower risk of substance abuse and pregnancy than there currently is among children placed with non-parent relatives.[27]  Based on the findings in one study there were indications that “kinship caregivers need greater support services.” [28]  In order to “improve outcomes of children in kinship care” there needs to be “increased supervision and monitoring of the kinship environment and increased caregiver support services.”[29]

There are also significant benefits to the children placed in kinship care compared to children placed in foster care.  Children in kinship care have fewer mental health and behavioral problems[30] with “half the risk of using outpatient mental health services or taking psychotropic medications.”[31]  The children experience greater stability with fewer placement changes[32] since they are more likely to have a permanent caregiver than children in foster care.[33]  Children placed with non-parent relatives feel more satisfaction with the living arrangements and there is a decreased feeling of stigmatization compared to children in foster care.[34]

The Impact of Kinship Care on the Relative Caregivers

Kinship care tends to be most common among families with fewer financial resources and greater social service needs.[35]  The majority of grandparents raising grandchildren are not wealthy and they receive little government financial assistance.[36]  Kinship caregivers “are more likely than foster caregivers to have a low socioeconomic status,” yet they receive fewer services to support raising the children.[37]  Being disproportionally poor, with about twenty-two percent of grandparents caring for grandchildren living at the poverty level, they need the most aid. [38]  “[K]inship caregivers [are] less than half as likely as foster caregivers to receive any type of financial support, about four times less likely to receive any form of parent training, and seven times less likely to have peer support groups or respite care.”[39]

There is also a tendency for kinship caregivers to be “single, unemployed, older and live in poor neighborhoods.”[40]  They are four times less likely to have graduated from high school and are “three times more likely to have an annual household income of less than $20,000.”[41]  A report from Louisiana shows that grandparents “who are rearing their grandchildren face barriers to social services and financial support that leave many risking their own medical needs and depleting their personal and retirement incomes.”[42]

Grandparents have expressed that they need help in the form of “after-school programs and transportation, tutoring programs, and mental health counseling for the children.”[43]  The report from Louisiana called for increasing the rate of the Kinship Care Subsidy to the state foster care rate, “raising the income eligibility cap for the subsidy,” making it “easier for grandparents to establish custody when they are rearing a grandchild,” and “[g]iving grandparents power to designate a stand-by guardian in case the grandparents become ill.”[44]

Threats to Funding

Foster care programs receive significantly more funding than Kinship Caregiver Programs in New York State.  Even though this is the case, it is Kinship Caregiver Programs that are at risk.  While foster care receives nearly $3 billion a year from New York to care for twenty-two thousand children, the state spends less than $1 million a year to support around 200,000 children who are cared for by grandparents.[45]  Even though Kinship Caregiver Programs aid more children with less money than foster care, funding has been threatened due to the state budget cuts implemented in April.[46]  The cuts have “forced over half of these community programs to close their doors or greatly reduce services.”[47]  Advocates for the programs sent Governor Andrew Cuomo a letter on July 19 to urge him to find funding to maintain the programs “critical for children cared for by non-parent relatives.”[48]  The letter requested that the governor find $1.3 million to maintain the programs.[49]  The government should continue to fund these programs because they are very important in aiding non-parent relative caregivers in the care of their relative children.

Conclusion

Some people believe that because grandparents have already raised children that the experience makes it easier.[50]  This, however, is not the case.  Grandparents have age and health problems working against them, but they nevertheless want to care for their grandchildren because they love them.[51]  This may also be the case for other non-parent relative caregivers.  Caring for related children out of love does not mean that grandparents or other relatives do not need assistance.  Kinship caregivers deserve and will continue to need assistance in raising relative children.


[1] Katie Miecznikowski, Help Needed for Grandparents Caring for Their Grandchildren, Legislativegazette.com (Aug. 1, 2011), http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-c-2011-08-01-79755.113122-Help-needed-for-grandparents-caring-for-their-grandchildren.html.

[2] Michael Morris, Grandparents can be a Lifeline for Kids Caught in Upheaval, L.A. Times, July 15, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/15/opinion/la-oe-morris-grandparents-20110715.

[3] Child Welfare League of America, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.cwla.org/programs/kinship/faq.htm (last visited Sept. 25, 2011).

[4] U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., Admin. for Children & Families, Kinship Care, http://www.childwelfare.gov/outofhome/types/kinship.cfm (last visited Sept. 25, 2011).

[5] Id.

[6] Morris, supra note 2.

[7] AARP, Connecticut: A State Fact Sheet for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children 1 (Sept. 2005), http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/kinship_care_2005_ct.pdff.  (4.5 million children are living in grandparent-headed households and 1.5 million children living in households headed by other relatives).

[8] Id.

[9] Mike Clifford, A “GrandRally” for the Silent Safety Net, Public News Service, Sept. 15, 2011, http://www.publicnewsservice.org/index.php?/content/article/22153-1.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] AARP, supra note 7.

[13] Meredith Kolodner, Chinatown School Works to Help Grandparents Who’ve Become Primary Caregivers,  Daily News (N.Y.), Jan. 24, 2011, http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-01-24/local/27096452_1_grandparents-club-public-school-work.

[14] Morris, supra note 2.

[15] Id.

[16] Editorial, Kinship Benefits to Relatives Better Choice than Foster Care, The Dallas Morning News, Mar. 2, 2011, http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/20110302-editorial-kinship-benefits-to-relatives-better-choice-than-foster-care.ece.

[17] N.Y.S Office of Children & Family Servs., Part K-1 Performance and Outcome-Based Programs, http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/bcm/tanf/kinship/ (last visited Sept. 25, 2011).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Morris, supra note 2.

[22] Id.

[23] Miecznikowski, supra note 1.

[24] Morris, supra note 2.

[25] Larry Cooper, Kinship Services Network of Pinellas: Five Year Evaluation Report, June 9, 2011, http://www.jwbpinellas.org/system/medias/761/original/IV_B_Childrens_Home_Kinship_Presentation.pdf (explaining that when the states supported kinship care Illinois reduced the average stay in foster care by 269 days and Wisconsin reduced the average stay by 133 days).

[26] Urban Inst. Project, Children in Kinship Care, available at http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/900661.pdf.

[27] “Kinship Caregivers” Get Less Help Than Foster Parents: Study, U.S. News, Feb. 7, 2011, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/02/07/kinship-caregivers-get-less-help-than-foster-parents-study (“adolescents in kinship care had twice the risk of substance abuse . . . and seven times the risk of pregnancy” than adolescents in foster care).

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Cooper, supra note 25.

[31] Kinship Caregivers, supra note 27.

[32] Cooper, supra note 25.

[33] Kinship Caregivers, supra note 27.

[34] Cooper, supra note 25.

[35] Id.

[36] Morris, supra note 2.

[37] Kinship Caregivers, supra note 27.

[38] Clifford, supra note 9.

[39] Kinship Caregivers, supra note 27.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Students Participate in Louisiana Project Examining Aid to Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren, http://www.mailman.columbia.edu/students/student-academics/students-participate-louisiana-project-examining-aid-grandparents-rearing (last visited September 25, 2011).

[43] Id.

[44] Id. (stating that the state foster care rate is forty percent higher than the kinship subsidy).

[45] Clifford, supra note 9.

[46] Miecznikowski, supra note 1.

[47] Id.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Susan Hillman, Students Participate in Project Examining Grandparents as Parents, examiner.com, Jan. 22, 2011, http://www.examiner.com/grandparents-raising-grandchildren-in-new-orleans/students-participate-project-examining-grandparents-as-parents.

[51] Id.

1 Comment

Filed under Education Law, Finance, Health Law, Human Rights

One response to “Keeping it in the Family: The New York State Kinship Caregiver Program

  1. Keeping children in the family with all the love and attention they can get is vital – and will prove to be an imperative requirement in social care now and in the future.
    And it is important that programmes such as Kinship Caregiver are maintained

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