FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

Services Law in relation to the eligibility of children for the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP), a subsidized guardianship program. KinGAP Expansion is New York State’s effort to expedite permanency for children and youth for whom adoption or reunification is not feasible. The changes to the law expanded KinGAP in two key ways: first, it eliminates the need for the prospective relative guardian to be related by blood, marriage, or adoption to a child or to all siblings in a sibling group; second, it eliminates the requirement that KinGAP payments automatically terminate upon the child’s 18th birthday if the agreement was effective prior to the child turning 16. 27 “These changes increase permanency options for children who would otherwise remain in foster care and provide committed foster parents the supports necessary to care for the child after transitioning to guardianship.” 28 Both efforts were undertaken in preparation for New York State’s implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which set the goal of no more than 12 percent of children in foster care living in congregate care and at least 50 percent of children in foster care living in kinship foster care. As of September 2021, 41 percent of children in foster care are with a kinship resource, and 14 percent are in congregate care. 29 By March 31, 2022, the number of children in a kinship foster homes increased to 46 percent. 30 The New York State Kinship Navigator Program provides information, referrals, and assistance via its website and toll-free telephone line. The Kinship Navigator is a statewide program operated by Catholic Family Center and specially designed to provide an information and referral network for kinship caregivers across all of New York State. 31 Pre-dating FFPSA, New York’s program has been available since 2006, and provides comprehensive, one- stop-shopping, resources, and services that address the many needs of kin caregivers, 32 including youth services, legal resources, county agencies, aging services, and other local agencies to help aid in working towards stable permanency plans. On the national level, a number of agencies have come together to support and advocate for kin caregivers. is a

collaboration of Casey Family Programs, Generations United, and the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. It serves as a national legal resource in support of grandfamilies –and other kin caregivers— within and outside the child welfare system. Its mission is to: educate individuals about state laws, legislation, and policy in support of grandfamilies; assist interested policymakers, advocates, caregivers, and attorneys in exploring policy options to support relatives and the children in their care and provide technical assistance and training. 33 contains a treasure trove of resources for kin, practitioners, child welfare staff, and courts alike. 34 What Can Judges Do? While judges in every state are bound by many ethical rules and regulations, there is much that judges can do to support kinship within ethical bounds. Lead from the top: Hold regular, high-level meetings with your child welfare agency leadership on policy and practice issues of importance. Make kinship a priority topic. Use the same framework in your local Child Welfare ______________ 27 New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Administrative Directive, Expansion of the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP) , 18-OCFS- ADM-03, March 2, 2018, policies/external/ocfs_2018/ADM/18-OCFS-ADM-03. pdf, accessed August 10, 2022. 28 Id. 29 New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Child Welfare News and Notes, September 2021 – Vol.5, No. 3, New York State on Track for Family First Implementation on September 29 , http://www.ocfs.state., accessed August 10, 2022. 30 New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Strategic planning and Policy Development, Children in Care and Custody (All Statuses) by Setting Type , https:// type/2022-Q1-Care-and-Custody-by-Setting-Type. xlsx, accessed August 11, 2022. 31 New York State Kinship Navigator, https://www., accessed August 10, 2022. 32 Id. 33 34 See , for example, Model Licensing Standards for Foster Homes , Grandfamilies,org, http://www.grandfamilies. org/Portals/0/Documents/Publications/Model%20 Licensing%20Standards%202018%20update.pdf, accessed August 12, 2022.

© Cannon Beach by Anisa Rahim

Court Improvement Program collaboratives and make sure kinship advocacy groups are at the stakeholder’s table. Lead from the bench: Treat everyone in your courtroom with respect. Ask questions. Ask them again. Ask the families what they need. Ask the children what they want. Ask at each and every court appearance whether the family can be reunified with support if there has been separation. If not, ask about kin and whether there are any kin caregivers for the child. Ask the child who they want to be with. Ask the parents who they would like the child to be with if they are unable to safely reunify. Importantly, do not be afraid to rule that reasonable efforts were NOT made if they weren’t—particularly so if those efforts should have been made to identify kin caregivers. Hold the agency accountable. Every time. Ask. 35 Advocate for resources: Each year, New York State Chief Judge DiFiore holds a hearing regarding Civil Legal Services funded by the judiciary. I recently testified, “In my leadership role connected with the New York State Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, just last week I participated in a program where I heard from kin caregivers—many of whom are

grandparents and great grandparents — about how desperate they are to have attorneys help them in Family Court, which is far too complicated for them to navigate on their own. The impact of the opioid epidemic on children and families has created a huge need for grandparents and other relatives to care for children when their parents are unable to. Very few legal service providers represent kinship caregivers for free, and one is the Empire Justice Center which is a grantee of our Judiciary Civil Legal Services funding… Without legal representation, vulnerable children enter foster care to live with strangers, instead of being safely cared for by loving kin. Attorneys make a difference.” 36 ______________ 35 See , for example, Judicial Guide to Implementing Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 , which contains questions judges can, and should ask at various hearings, http://www.grandfamilies. org/Portals/0/Documents/Fostering%20Connections/ JudicialGuidetoFosteringConnections2011[1].pdf, accessed August 12, 2022. 36 The Chief Judge's 2019 Hearing on Civil Legal Services, public-hearings-2019.shtml, accessed August 12, 2022.

34 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 35

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