Non-Parent Relatives & Family Friends Caring for Children Gain Legal Standing in NYS as ‘Kinship Caregivers’
AARP Applauds New Law; Caps Two-Decade Effort
ALBANY, N.Y.— Non-parent relatives and family friends – disproportionately African American and mostly grandparents – raising nearly 200,000 children in New York now have legal status as “kinship caregivers” under a new law signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The law culminates two decades of advocacy on behalf of kinship caregivers by AARP, the NYS Kinship Navigator, the KinCare Coalition and others, and was among the recommendations in Disrupt Disparities: Kinship Care in Crisis. That report, released earlier this year by AARP New York, the NAACP New York State Conference, New York Urban League, Hispanic Federation and Asian American Federation, is part of the groups’ ongoing “Disrupting Racial & Ethnic Disparities” initiative.
The 2021-22 State Budget also fully restored funding to $2,539,250 for New York’s 14 local kinship programs (serving 25 counties) and statewide Kinship Navigator (serving the remainder) to provide information, referral and education programs for kinship caregivers, the Kinship Guardian Assistance Program, and other services.
The “Disrupt Disparities” report recommended the restoration after state lawmakers cut funding by nearly $1 million last year for those programs, forcing the State Office of Children and Family Services to re-direct one-time funds to fill the gap.
The bill the Governor signed (A3496-Hevesi/S54-Persaud) legally defines kinship caregivers as step-parents, godparents, neighbors and family friends “acting as a parent” to children whose own parents are unable or unwilling to raise them. Those caregivers must either be related to the child or a half-sibling of the child through blood, marriage or adoption, or have a “positive prior relationship with the child, a half-sibling of the child or the child’s parent.”
“Non-parent relatives and family friends who raise children perform heroic work, not only for their families but for society,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “AARP New York thanks Governor Cuomo for signing this new law, and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and Senator Roxanne Persaud for their leadership in sponsoring this bill and moving it through the state Legislature.”
“This new law makes it crystal clear that these selfless kinship caregivers deserve special recognition and should qualify for a variety of benefits that will help the children they care for and their families,” said Gerard Wallace, a new member of AARP New York’s volunteer Executive Council and former Director of the NYS Kinship Care Navigator.
“I am extremely proud that that this legislation was signed into law,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi. “Clearly defining the term ‘kinship’ will lead to increased benefits, supports, and rights for our kin caregivers. Non-relative caregivers should be afforded the same benefits as those related by blood; now they will be.”
“The many grandparents and other kinship caregivers across New York have a hard enough job,” said NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel N. Dukes. “Their new legal standing should help ensure the children they love and care for, and their families, receive the benefits and services they need. The NAACP applauds this new and long overdue law.”
“Kinship Caregivers are an invaluable resource to families -providing stability and permanency that is essential for children who cannot reside with their parents,” said Rae Glaser, Director of the NYS Kinship Navigator. “This statutory definition will ensure all kinship caregivers are recognized and have access to the supports and benefits they are entitled to. We appreciate the support from Assemblyman Hevesi and Senator Persaud, who have been long-time champions of kinship care, as well as Governor Cuomo for signing the bill into law.”
“The Asian American community is impacted by extensive kinship care between grandparents and children who are identified as ‘satellite children,’” said Asian American Federation Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo. “This new law recognizes these often-invisible kinship caregivers, who play such significant roles in keeping families together.”
“Hispanic Federation applauds Governor Cuomo for signing this important piece of legislation into law,” said Diana Caba, Assistant Vice President for Policy and Community Engagement, Hispanic Federation. “Granting kinship caregivers solid legal standing is critical to ensuring that these families have access to information and resources to assist in providing stable and happy homes across New York State.”
AARP New York and its collaborators hope the new law helps New York address these serious issues identified in their report:
- Only 15% of eligible children in New York receive the roughly $480 special monthly federal “Non-Parent” grant for which they qualify.
- Nationally, one in five African American/Black children will live in a kinship home during their childhood – more than double the one in 11 average.
- 21.1% of grandparents caring for children in New York have income under the federal poverty line, while half of all single grandmothers raising grandchildren live in poverty – with grandmothers more likely to be caregivers than grandfathers.
- Less than one third of eligible grandparent-headed households receive housing assistance.
- Older kinship caregivers are even less likely than other low-income New Yorkers to know what supports they are eligible for, such as housing, legal assistance, financial benefits, child care and the Non-Parent Grant (for which the application process is complex and lengthy and for which eligibility guidelines differ across counties), or how to apply; many are uncomfortable with the internet and online applications.
- Lack of legal ability to enroll children in school, make educational or medical decisions for children, take them to the doctor or obtain documents such as birth certificates can keep families from achieving stability.
Despite all these obstacles, 46% of grandparents raising their grandchildren have had them for at least five years. And grandparents and other kinship caregivers are more likely to provide a permanent home and help children maintain connections to siblings and other extended family while remaining connected to a sense of cultural identity. These factors lead to better behavioral and mental health outcomes in the short-term, and decreased adverse health effects in adulthood.
Kinship caregivers are raising about 195,000 children in New York, with 96% doing so outside of foster care – which limits their access to the resources, supports, and benefits foster parents receive.
About 65% of all kinship caregivers in New York are grandparents caring for their grandchildren – some 120,376 grandparents in all, according to the American Community Survey.
Besides urging the State to define “kinship caregiver” in law and fully fund programs and services, AARP New York and its collaborators made the following recommendations:
- Double the number of children enrolled in the Non-Parent Grant to 30% of eligible children through increased training of State staff and wider community education to ensure families are aware of this and other benefits for which they qualify.
- Prioritize working kinship caregivers for childcare assistance.
- Grant “special population” status for new housing construction for kinship caregivers and ease restrictions on housing assistance when kinship caregivers take children into their homes.
- Fund legal services specific to kinship issues in every major population center.
- Regulate the use of “safety plan arrangements” by ensuring child welfare agencies conduct extensive follow-up with parents, children, and kinship caregivers.
- Explore potential opportunities for support through the National Family Caregiver Support Program, a federal initiative designed to support caregivers.
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation’s largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.