Ruby and Grandma (3)Over the past few months, Kentucky Youth Advocates has been talking with professionals, surveying support group leaders and listening to kinship caregivers in order to identify the needs facing children in kinship care in Kentucky. Some 63,000 children in Kentucky are being raised by grandparents and other relatives, at the second highest rate in the nation. Last week we shared about confusion over the fact that all children who are being raised by relatives are eligible for KTAP, whether or not they have been involved with the child welfare system.

Another issue we have heard is that without the support of the foster care system or a legal relationship that is formalized by the courts, kin caregivers face enormous challenges enrolling children in school, advocating for educational services or consenting to health care.

For instance, a little boy being raised by his great aunt in Fayette County was turned away the day he showed up for kidney surgery because his mother was incarcerated and could not sign the consent form. According to his aunt, she had hesitated from obtaining legal custody or guardianship because among her family, “I was raised to not take responsibility but foster and help the parent become a better parent.”  We hear time and again from grandparents, aunts, and even cousins that when they step in to take care of the children, they do so hoping it will be a temporary situation and that the parents will be able to resume caregiving after getting back on their feet. But for many, years go by and this fails to happen, and they end up facing huge obstacles navigating a system that was designed for nuclear families. And as in the case in Lexington, it can jeopardize the health and well-being of children.

We believe that caregivers and the children they raise should have a range of choices that fit their families best.  For many families, the time, expense, and drama of going court to get a legal relationship just isn’t worth it.  To ensure that children in kinship families have access to education and health care, 26 states have enacted health care consent laws and 14 states have enacted educational consent laws that allow kin caregivers to access these services for the children they raise without the need for legal custody or guardianship. See the map below, based on analysis by Generations United.

consent laws (4)

Sources: The National Council of State Legislatures and, as of April 2013.

Consent laws give families options.  Without consent laws, the children can also be kept out of school and prevented from accessing health care for the many months it takes to get a legal relationship. Considering the changing landscape of families in Kentucky, and the high number of children being raised by relatives, it’s time for us to recognize that current standards aren’t measuring up and enact consent laws in the Commonwealth.

Have you faced these obstacles as a grandparent or relative? We would like to hear your story. Please email me at