Kinship program expands - Catholic Courier

Kinship program expands

About two years ago, Debra Barletta was searching for a way to help remove her granddaughter from what Barletta described as an abusive and neglectful situation.

But when she brought her granddaughter into her own home, she wasn’t prepared for the hefty medical and legal bills she faced to provide for her granddaughter’s needs. She said she sought help from various agencies, but was erroneously told that there was no help available for someone in her situation.

She quickly exhausted her savings, but eventually she found resources thanks to information provided by the New York State Kinship Navigator program, which runs a statewide network of support services and a telephone information and referral service for nonparent family members or friends who are caring for others’ children. The Kinship Navigator program is operated statewide by Catholic Family Center in Rochester and is funded through the state Office of Children and Family Services.

In the fall, the Kinship Navigator program received a $2.09 million federal grant over three years to expand the program in five New York counties: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Broome and Tioga. The grant’s aim is to demonstrate that collaboration between the local child welfare and temporary assistance agencies and a kinship navigator program can help decrease foster care placements and potentially improve outcomes for children, said Rachel Glaser, program administrator for the state Kinship Navigator program.

The program will help local Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services staff members immediately refer kinship caregivers to Kinship Navigator programs. Staff also will automatically seek permission for the Kinship Navigator programs to call caregivers directly, rather than putting the responsibility on caregivers to seek out the kinship caregiving supports, Glaser said.

Researchers from SUNY Albany also will follow up with caregivers and the temporary assistance and child welfare agencies after three months to track effectiveness.

As part of the grant, the Kinship Navigator program and its subcontractors, which include Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tioga County and the Family Enrichment Network in Broome and Tioga counties, also will provide outreach, including training of caregivers and professionals; creation of pro-bono legal assistance networks; creation of a Kinship Corps of trained caregivers; a Web-based collection system; and establishment of sustainable coalitions initiated by kinship summits and sustained by local partners, the pro bono legal assistance networks and the Kinship Corps.

According to a 2011 report from a state Kincare Coalition, if the state’s kinship programs were to end and children were to enter the foster care system, it would cost the state an additional $7 million to $23 million. Foster care costs New York $1.376 billion — or an average of $56,060 per child per year — while in 2010-11, the state paid a total of $3 million to fund the state Kinship Navigator and 21 regional kinship programs, according to the 2011 report.

To help support kinship caregivers, the Kinship Navigator program provides a variety of information specific to their situations, such as for children of incarcerated parents, for grandparents, for those dealing with adoption or paternity issues, for those seeking financial assistance or tax information, and for those struggling to produce birth certificates or other documentation.

"We tell them what their legal rights are as a caregiver and answer any questions they have," Glaser said.

To help support kinship caregivers in their communities, the navigator program provides county-specific information on local support groups, agencies offering legal assistance, and programs for elderly caregivers and youths.

"It’s our job to say, ‘What can we do to help support you?’ " Glaser said.

Glaser said in the last calendar year, the Kinship Navigator program helped 3,500 individuals in all 62 counties in the state. Yet those caregivers serve just a small fraction of the estimated 250,000 to 300,000 children who are living in informal kinship care, and the 25,000 who are in foster care. Though foster care does important work to provide loving homes to children who need them, there are advantages to kinship care, she said.

"The kinship caregiver often has a sense of familial duty, and we find kids have a stronger sense of permanence," Glaser said, comparing kinship care to foster care.

Barletta said staff with the Kinship Navigator program helped her fill out paperwork and know her rights as she dealt with a web of state agencies and complex laws.

"The Kinship program is great," she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Kinship Navigator network runs a toll-free telephone line for caregivers from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 1-877-454-6463.


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