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Kinship Bills Attract Attention of New Delegates

Republican Delegate Emily Brewer shares her personal story of adoption during adoption advocacy day last week.

Most children in foster care are placed into the homes of strangers, not relatives. But when possible, research suggests kinship care can have major benefits for kids. For example, it can help reduce behavioral issues.

Democratic Delegate Karrie Delaney used to work in a group home for girls in foster care.

“It’s always better – it’s a best practice in child welfare – to look for family members," Delaney said. "They’re familiar with that child first. It’s going to reduce trauma to the child, it’s going to create an easier transition for that child.”

A few bills before the General Assembly – including one sponsored by Delaney - would create a program called KinGAP. That stands for Kinship Guardian Assistance Program – and would provide financial assistance to relatives of kids in foster care for taking them in.

The kids eligible for the program aren’t being considered for adoption, or reunification with their birth family – and are usually older.

“So it's not a situation where a family member would be asking for a relative to take their child,” said Allison Gilbreath with Voices for Virginia’s Children.

She says there are only about 100-200 kids under 18 in Virginia’s foster care system that fit that description. Despite the concerns of some like Republican Senator Dick Black, Gilbreath says the chances of fraud are slim.

“It would be very difficult for a family member to be in a situation where they were trying to do this for any reason other than wanting the child to have a safe and permanent home," Gilbreath said.

The amount of the stipend relatives receive varies by locality and income, but Gilbreath says it’s typically about a couple hundred dollars a month. Democratic Senator Barbara Favola has introduced the Senate version of Delaney’s bill, and told her colleagues earlier this month that many families need the extra money.

“This is an opportunity for relatives to be able to step up and provide a permanent home so the child does not have to remain in foster care," Favola said. "Many relatives really need some monetary payment to be able to do that.”

Some relatives aren’t able to take in the children of siblings or other family members due to lack of money.  That was the case for Carl Price – who shared his story during adoption advocacy day last week.

He entered foster care at age 14, and cycled through three foster homes and one group home before cycling out of foster care at 21. He says his mother’s sister inquired about temporary assistance just to pay for a bed for him, but with no luck.

“The problem is they didn't have enough money," Price said. "Now to someone making a six-figure income that's inconceivable. But we're talking about people who are making minimum wage or something like that and already have children in the home. So when you have three kids and you're making minimum wage, one more mouth to feed. That's very expensive.”

It’s the fifth year in a row that legislation creating the KinGAP program Virginia is being introduced. The majority of states – including D.C. – have already established similar programs. Gilbreath is optimistic that this year, legislators will see its full benefits. She says not only does it save the state money in the long run, but it’s the best option for those in foster care it applies to.

“They’re more likely to achieve permanency and they're less likely to age out of foster care," Gilbreath said. "And right now it's extremely expensive when children age out of foster care for a myriad of reasons. One they're now eligible for Fostering Futures, which is great but it's also expensive to the Commonwealth. And we also know that children who age out are more likely to get involved into the juvenile justice system they're more likely to experience homelessness. So if we can make them have a permanent home before they turn 18 they're more likely to be economic producers later on down the road.”

Republican Delegate Emily Brewer is sponsoring another kinship bill. Both her bill and Delaney's will be up for review during tomorrow's House Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee meeting. 

“Someone’s close relative is going to know children better than a stranger," Brewer said. "And you know we want to give children the best opportunity to succeed educationally, mentally and just in life. And I think it’s in the best interest of a child to stay with family they know and love.”

Brewer was adopted herself, wants to work on statewide reforms of the adoption and foster care systems. She has another bill in that would shorten the time period between foster care placement and adoption.