By Mark Hallum
A bill designed to ease the strain on the foster care system in the state received support from child advocacy groups across the city following its unanimous passage in both the state Senate and the Assembly.
The piece of legislation, which was introduced by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), expands what is known as the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program to include people “with a positive relationship with the child.” This now covers, but is not limited to, a stepparent, godparent, neighbor or family friend as prospective guardians of children in the event they are left without parents to care for them.
“Getting these amendments passed was crucial to improving the future of foster children across the state,” Avella said. “All children in this state, whether they are foster children or not, deserve to have every possible opportunity afforded to them. I thank Assembly member Hevesi for pushing this legislation in the Assembly and his dedication to securing the future of the children and families of our state.”
The bill is still awaiting a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but Avella said Cuomo’s office has already offered input on the legislation to see to its success.
“A7554-A will enable many children to leave the foster care system, exponentially increasing their chances for success and self-sufficiency in the future,” Hevesi said. “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.”
The amendment to KinGAP will also allow children under the care of guardians to receive subsidies until they are 21 if the Guardianship Assistance Agreement did not begin prior to the child turning 16 years old, allowing them to pursue vocational programs and access higher education.
“Recognizing that children’s notions of ‘family’ extend beyond the people they are related to by blood, marriage, and adoption, New York has long allowed adults who have close relationship with children to be certified as ‘kinship’ foster parents when those children enter foster care,” Executive Director of Lawyers For Children Karen Freedman said. “This legislation takes the important step of also allowing those adults to be treated as kin for purposes of discharging children from foster care to permanent homes with people they consider to be their family.”
Avella and Hevesi said the expansion of the KinGAP program will save the state in foster care expenses and put children back into family settings as quickly as possible.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall