Kinship care, as it’s commonly called, refers to caregiver grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, adult siblings and even family friends. Nationally, more than 2.7 million children live with relatives. New York has more than 200,000 children living full time with kin. Over 8,000 of these families reside in Monroe County.
Kinship advocates constantly talk about the near sainthood of caregivers. Imagine a distressed and hurt child, who has been abused and neglected, coming suddenly into your home. Would you have the courage and perseverance to accept the challenge? If it was your kin, you would. That’s the story of kinship care. It’s a great story, filled with love and sacrifice.
Most of these children are not in foster care; they are being cared for by non-parents outside the “formal” foster-care system. Almost all have suffered the loss of parents and homes. Kinship care isn’t easy – it’s a labor of love from dedicated caregivers. Children live with their kin because of unfortunate circumstances, including but not limited to incarceration, abuse, neglect, and parental loss. At the NYS Kinship Navigator, which is based in Rochester but serves the entire state, we hear from caregivers in New York City, Plattsburgh, Buffalo, and all points in between. Their stories are remarkably similar. Parents cannot parent, and family must step in quickly. But the families are remarkably successful – a result that we credit to the determination and unconditional love of caregivers. To meet kinship caregivers and to hear their stories is an altogether different thing, an incredible experience. The NYS Kinship Navigator is joined by the Kinship Integrative Network (KIN), which serves as a support system for caregivers in Monroe County. These two programs, along with twenty one other programs funded by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), serve caregivers in their specific counties to ensure they receive the support and services they need to make the children in their care thrive.
This is the third year that New York celebrates September as Kinship Care Month. The Legislature and the governor have issued proclamations marking September as the time to praise the virtues of kinship families and recognize their importance. This month we can all remember someone who has volunteered to be a child’s caregiver and go thank them. That’s a common cause worth celebrating.