2017-08-30 / Front Page

Avella, Hevesi Bill Expanding Protections For Foster Children Passes Legislature

(L. to r.); Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Dianne Heggie, Rachel Tzimorewtas, Harriet Lessel, Claudette Horry, Kari Siddiqui, Stephanie Gendell and NYS Senator Tony Avella.(L. to r.); Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Dianne Heggie, Rachel Tzimorewtas, Harriet Lessel, Claudette Horry, Kari Siddiqui, Stephanie Gendell and NYS Senator Tony Avella.As the New York State Legislature’s 2017 Legislative Session came to an end in June, a piece of legislation (S4833-A/A7554-A), introduced by NYS Senator Tony Avella (S.D. 11) and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (A.D. 28), to amend the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP) to expand the definition of “relative guardian” to include additional adults with close relationships to the foster child unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly.
This legislation was first introduced in the NYS Legislature in March and instantly received overwhelming support through memorandums of support from Lawyers for Children, Citizens Committee for Children, the New York City Bar, the New York State Bar Association, New York State Kinship Navigator, the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, the New York City A.S.F.A. Coalition, and the Committee on Children and the Law.
This legislation makes two changes to fill significant gaps in the definition of individuals eligible to be appointed as kinship guardians of children in foster care. First, it would amend the definition of “prospective relative guardian” to include prospective guardians who are related to only one of a sibling group, thereby allowing sibling groups to continue to be placed together. Thus, the half-sibling of a child could be placed with that child’s prospective kinship guardian even though the half-sibling is not related by blood, marriage or adoption to the prospective guardian. Further, it would add as prospective guardians those “with a positive relationship with the child, including, but not limited to, a step-parent, godparent, neighbor or family friend.” Both of these changes are consistent with practices and definitions used for foster care, thus allowing continuity of care by authorizing a permanency option consistent with children’s prior placements and, importantly, preventing the breakup of sibling groups.
Additionally, this legislation rectifies an anomaly in the current law that only allowed KinGAP assistance beyond the age of 18 if the Guardianship Assistance Agreement did not commence before the child’s 16th birthday. This meant that a 14 or 15 year old (or younger), who may want to go to college or participate in a vocational program while living in the guardian’s home, would be blocked from a permanency option that may be the best, and often the only, option available. Such children are faced with an untenable choice: to delay permanency until they reach the age of 16 (thus costing the state and county continued foster care assistance), to limit the assistance available only until they age out at 18, or to sacrifice the kinship guardianship permanency option altogether.
KinGAP was designed for a foster child to achieve a permanent placement with a relative who had been the child’s foster parent for at least six months. This program provides financial support, and in most cases medical coverage for the child, beginning with the child’s discharge from foster care to the guardian. The level of financial support is similar to the maintenance payments received while the child was in foster care. Experience with the program, especially in New York City where it is frequently utilized, has demonstrated its enormous value, not only for the children and families who are its beneficiaries, but also for the state in its constant quest to improve its record in achieving timely permanency for the children in its care. That need for improvement cannot be overstated.
Senator Avella said, “Getting these amendments passed were crucial to improving the future of foster children across the state. All children in this state, whether they are foster children or not, deserve to have every possible opportunity afforded to them. I thank Assemblymember Hevesi for pushing this legislation in the Assembly and his dedication to securing the future of the children and families of our state.”
Assemblyman Hevesi said, “A7554-A will enable many children to leave the foster care system, exponentially increasing their chances for success and self-sufficiency in the future. I commend my colleagues in the State Legislature, particularly Senator Avella, who carried this bill through the Senate. Additionally, I would like to thank Stephanie Gendell, the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, Schuyler Center for Advocacy and Analysis (SCAA), the Office of Court Administration (OCA), the Children’s Aid Society, JCCA, Sheltering Arms, the Legal Aid Society, and Lawyers for Children for their incredible work and guidance while crafting this legislation. This is an important step towards assisting New York’s youth in foster care and the dedicated relatives and guardians who care for these children.”

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