There was some serious excitement in my house last week, as my youngest daughter began kindergarten. The day before her first day, we went into school to deliver her bag of school supplies – crayons, markers, scissors, notebooks, and glue sticks. We visited her new classroom and found her spot at the table with her name and met her new teacher. We hung her first-day-of-school outfit in her closet and got her new Shopkins backpack ready to go. It was a pretty big deal.
My daughter is one of over 50,000 kindergartners entering the public school system in Kentucky this year. As a parent of a kindergartner, there are a lot of details to manage before the first day. There are immunization forms and birth certificates to round up and present. There are medical, dental, and vision screenings to get completed. There are transportation and after school care plans to iron out. See a description of all it takes to enroll a child in public school in Kentucky here.
As an advocate for kids in Kentucky, I am reminded that the end of the summer brings both relief and challenges to families. Beyond teaching kids the core subjects that they need to succeed in school, like reading, math, and science, schools also meet other needs and provide key supports to families. For instance, free and reduce price school meals are a critical source of nutrition for many households that suffer from food insecurity and struggle to put meals on the table. And let’s face it, having kids in public school delivers a must have for any parent who has a regular 9 to 5 job – safe and affordable care for their kids while they are at work.
Yet, for the 70,000 children who are being raised by grandparents and other relatives, also known as kinship care, we continually hear from many partners across the state that our systems, which were designed with traditional families in mind, often pose major barriers to this increasingly common family structure. Growing numbers of children are in the care of relatives due to opioid abuse or parental incarceration due to that abuse.
What does the beginning of school mean for children in kinship families? It means dealing with the unplanned expenses for new clothes, school supplies, and backpacks and figuring out transportation. But one of the greatest challenges for new kinship caregivers is the lack of legal relationship to the child, which is often needed to make medical and educational decisions on behalf of the child.
In 2014, the Kentucky General Assembly recognized the temporary nature of most informal kinship arrangements and the need for caregivers to have the power to authorize school enrollment, health care treatment, and educational services. Subsequently, SB 176 was passed into law. The new law broke down barriers for caregivers by allowing a relative to complete a form, called an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, stating that they are the primary caregiver of the child. The form provides space for a parent to sign off or for an explanation of attempts to contact the parent, if they are unavailable.
In partnership with the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky and AppalRed, Kentucky Youth Advocates worked to create a model affidavit for kinship caregivers. The Caregiver’s Authorization Affidavit serves as a template for caregivers without legal custody to get the authorization needed to address the educational and medical needs of the children they are caring for. The form was created in order to help relative caregivers easily create an affidavit on their own, without having to consult an attorney.
Let’s help all Kentucky kids get back to school healthy, safe, and ready to learn!