Kinship care is the raising of children by grandparents, other extended family members, and adults with whom they have a close family-like relationship such as godparents and close family friends because biological parents are unable to do so for whatever reason. Legal custody of a child may or may not be involved, and the child may be related by blood, marriage, or adoption. This arrangement is also known as "kincare" or "relative care." Kinship placement may reduce the number of home placements children experience; allow children to maintain connections to communities, schools, and family members; and increase the likelihood of eventual reunification with birth parents. It is less costly to taxpayers than formal foster care and keeps many children out of the foster care system. "Grandfamily" is a recently coined term in the United States that refers to families engaged in kinship care.
The Kinship Navigator (KN) is a statewide program operated by Catholic Family Center in Rochester, NY and specially designed to provide an information and referral network for kinship caregivers across all of New York State. Since 2006, the Kinship Navigator has provided leadership for a broad-based coordinated effort to deliver comprehensive services that address the multiple needs of kinship caregivers and their families. We are currently the only state funded kinship program for all of NYS by providing information, referral, education and advocacy for caregivers and professionals in every county.
KN provides a help line that serves all 62 counties of New York State – the help line is staffed 10:00 -4:00 Monday-Friday by a trained kinship specialist who answers calls from caregivers and professionals live. The specialist conducts a telephone intake and provides information on a variety of kinship queries, most often related to financial assistance, legal assistance, and support. The program website, http://www.nysnavigator.org, hosts more than fifty cited legal fact sheets that provide information on a variety of issues most commonly faced by caregivers, a list of resources by county, and a growing online education forum for caregivers and professionals to learn about benefits.
Kinship Specialists also refer caregivers to local kinship case management and caregiver support programs. There are currently 22 programs that are state funded (by the Office of Children and Family Services), serving 22 counties in NYS for local support and case management assistance. These programs provide a more hands-on support system for caregivers in the counties they serve, while in the remaining 40 counties that have limited access to support services, KN attempts to find ancillary services that families may take advantage of. OCFS recently funded fifteen permanency centers that serve post guardianship and adoptive families, which comprise a small number of kinship caregivers as well. KN also has access to a network of pro bono and low bono attorneys that can assist caregivers on a case by case basis.
Clients and professionals can also access a specialist via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via online chat (tawk.to) during business hours.
Since 2007, KN has served over 12,000 kinship families in NYS. The program averages between 3,000-4,000 calls per year, with several repeat callers. Roughly 60% of callers are grandparents, the rest being aunts, uncles, adult siblings, other family members, and fictive kin (non-related caregivers).
In fall 2012, KN was one of seven grantees nationally for the federal Children's Bureau kinship navigator demonstration project. This three year project focused on strengthening county collaborations, and partnered with five county Departments of Social Services in order to facilitate a “Permission to Contact” form that allowed case workers to refer families to KN via written consent so that KN Specialists were able to call the client directly. Over three years, caregiver contact in these counties increased 600%. Since the end of the project in 2015, KN has implemented regional navigators across the state that provide local presentations in order to educate front line workers on KN and kinship resources. Since 2016, regional navigators have made contact with voluntary agencies and county workers in an additional twenty four counties.
In fall 2016, KN was awarded a small grant by the NYS Office of Aging in order to partner with local agencies to provide support groups for caregivers. There are currently two KN support groups in operation – one in Rockland County (partnered with local kinship program) and one in Ontario County (partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension). There is a third planned to start in Fall 2017 in St. Lawrence County (partnered with the local Office of Mental Health).