States continue to put more of an emphasis on kinship care with each new study that backs the benefits of placing children in the care of relatives rather than traditional foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center found that nationally the number of children in both formal and informal kinship care grew by nearly 100,000 between 2012 and 2015. However, while the national number continues to grow, Kentucky has witnessed a decline from nearly 55,000 children being raised by relatives in 2014 down to 53,000 just a year later.
Paula Sherlock, the chief judge in Kentucky’s Jefferson Family Court, told the Courier Journal, “Some relatives simply can’t afford to take custody of children without financial support.” As covered in our previous article, “Grandma Underground: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy,” the impact the 2013 state budget cuts had on kinship parents which resulted in them losing their monthly subsidy. Sherlock went on to say that, “I think the loss of Kinship Care has been a definite deterrent to relative placement… For people on fixed incomes, taking in a grandchild is a serious financial issue.”
Without the subsidy, these kinship parents have had to dig into their retirement funds, ask for support from local food banks and churches and even face foreclosures in order to continue providing for the children placed in their care. While they are struggling to make ends meet and continue to fight to have the state’s Kinship Care Program reinstated, Kentucky provides traditional foster parents with $681 to $2,746 per month depending on the child’s specific needs.
After an initial bill from Sen. Dennis Parrett, (R-KY) to restore the $300 per month per child funding for kinship parents failed to be heard during the state’s 2017 legislative session, he pledged to continue fighting to get these parents the support they deserve and desperately need. While Parrett continues to work with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who has made addressing the needs of foster care a priority, to allocate money to bring back the kinship care program in the state’s next budget, a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opened the door for some kinship caregivers to receive funding.
This past January, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sided in favor of kinship care funding, ordering Kentucky to pay relatives the same amount it pays its foster parents. The state attempted to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has delayed these parents from receiving any funding while the case was being held up. However, on October 10th, the Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal and the ruling was finalized.
Rob Green, the director of policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, told the Courier Journal, “This is the kinship case advocates have been waiting for.” Family law experts believe this case could result in other states being mandated to offer similar funding to kinship care households.
While this ruling is a step in the right direction for relatives caring for family members, there are still hurdles they must get over. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling only applies to those who were placed in temporary care of a relative by Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and the monthly stipend would end once the child is permanently placed. The state is now working to identify which families are eligible to receive funding and where this money will come from.
New Jersey continues to put an emphasis on placing children with relatives when possible and has seen a considerable rise in kinship placements, which now account for 36% of all children in care. Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) has been working with the state for over a decade to continually update the Manual of Requirement for Resource Family Parents to include new definitions and standards. In 2012, FAFS contributed to the whitepaper “The Changing Landscape of Foster Care” that examined the state’s work on growing its kinship care programs in order to provide better futures for children in care. Looking to develop a deeper understanding of how to better serve kinship parents, FAFS sent out a survey to kinship families across the state that revealed, in order to ensure the best outcomes for these placements, kinship parents need flexibility and support from the state.
To learn more about Kentucky’s legal battle over the kinship care subsidy, click here.
To learn more about kinship care in New Jersey, click here.