grandma and girlYesterday, Senator Harper Angel filed SB 176 to allow a relative caregiver to access key services for the children in their care when legal custody or guardianship is not feasible. We applaud her for her leadership on this important issue for kids and look forward to the bill moving forward through the Senate and House this session.

Children across Kentucky are being denied access to education and health care solely because they are being raised by someone other than their parents. About 59,000 children in Kentucky are being raised by kinship caregivers – grandparents and other extended family members. Research shows that when children cannot remain with their parents, they fare better with relatives than in foster care

What’s the problem?

Without legal custody or guardianship, it can be very difficult for relative caregivers to enroll children in school or access educational services or health care for them. But, many relatives do not want or cannot afford a legal relationship with the children in their care. Often, relatives step in to help stabilize the situation for children on a temporary basis, with the understanding that the parents will resume care once they are able.

What will SB 176 do?

SB 176 allows caregivers to complete an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, stating that they are the primary caregiver of the child, and then by presenting the form they can authorize health care treatment, educational services, and school enrollment.

What does the current law require?

Currently, if relatives do not want or cannot afford to seek legal custody, they must obtain a power of attorney in order to access health care and educational services for the children in their care. In order for a caregiver to gain power of attorney, the parent must designate the caregiver and sign off to convey authority. This requirement can pose a significant obstacle to caregivers who often cannot locate the parents to ask them to complete a legal document.

Why is this important to address now?

The number of children being raised by relatives has doubled over the past decade, meaning more children than ever are facing these challenges. The majority of children are in informal arrangements in which relatives are providing care with no involvement of the courts or the child welfare system. Currently, schools and health care providers in Kentucky have no clear direction on how to handle these situations. This effort is a cost-neutral way to remove barriers for kinship families.

How do other states handle this?  

In total, 23 states have enacted health care laws and 14 have enacted education laws to allow kinship caregivers to authorize these services for children in their care. See State Educational and Health Care Consent Laws by Generations United for a summary of how other states have designed their laws and important points to consider.