PITTSFORD — When Mrinalini and Jayant Marathe of Greece began caring for their granddaughter at birth, they knew they were making a commitment that could become long term.
They didn’t know until recently that New York state has a network to help relatives to care for children.
With the aim of picking up new tips to navigate the state’s kinship-care giving system, the Marathes attended the conference “Supporting Kinship Families: An Overview for Professionals,” which took place June 19 at Nazareth College. The event included a talk by Monroe County Family Court Judge Patricia Gallaher and several social-work experts.
In 2002, Rochester’s Catholic Family Center and six other organizations completed their first year as the Kinship Care Resource Network to support kinship caregivers and provide them with information. Last year, a state grant was used to expand the network to include all of New York state. Kinship caregivers from across the state can call the network or visit its Web site to get legal fact sheets, view message boards and find support agencies.
“Kinship care is not just about grandparents raising grandchildren,” Mary Penet, program manager of the Kinship Care Resource Network, said during the event. “It’s about support and help so they can provide the best services.”
Gerard Wallace, director of the state’s Kinship Care Navigator network, said Catholic Family Center was chosen as a model for the state system because CFC’s program was one of the oldest and most comprehensive in New York.
“We need to do outreach to the whole state,” Wallace said.
He estimated that at least 200,000 families across the state are raising kin. In New York there are more rural kinship-care providers than there are urban kinship-care providers, said Jed Metzger, an assistant professor of social work at Nazareth College, noting that a variety of situations may necessitate kinship care.
Kathryn Castle, a senior instructor with the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics with the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in Monroe County, 11,551 relatives — nearly 7 percent of the population — are caring for one or more children 18 and under.
“Although kinship care has been around forever, it’s become more visible,” said Castle, who noted it might be attributed to an increase in abuse, neglect and poverty.
According to the Kinship Navigator network, several legal options exist in the state for kinship caregivers. Those options include informal custody, which means a caregiver does not have a formal court order; legal custody and legal guardianship, which are similar but have several technical differences; kinship foster care, which attempts to place children removed from parental care with family members; and adoption.
Wallace, an attorney, said New York law in general has protections of parental rights — including the right to parent badly — but lacks many of the same protections for kinship caregivers.
In instances where relatives wish to remove children from parents’ homes or from foster care, they can ask for a court proceeding. The relative must prove either that a parent is unfit or that a child has been living with the relative recently.
In situations where parents agree with the removal, they may be able to give the authority to another relative to make schooling and medical decisions, Wallace said.
Families taking part in kinship care may qualify for a range of financial help, tax benefits and low-cost health insurance. Sometimes children can be added to a caregiver’s benefits, said Loretta Callahan of the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center.
Sue McLean, administrative caseworker for the Children and Family Services Division of the Monroe County Department of Human Services, said the county tries to do this by using a relative resource sheet to identify all members of an extended family who may be interested in caring for a child as an alternative to foster care in a stranger’s home.
McLean said it’s important not to make promises to children about when they can return home. It can be difficult on children to hear that they will be staying with a family member or in a foster situation until their mother or father fixes their problem, she said.
“It puts the child on notice to mark time,” McLean said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The state information line for kinship caregivers is available at 877/454-6463 Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information also is available at www.nysnavigator.org.