WHP Harrisburg: New bill helping to strengthen kinship providers program in PA

In Iris Mummert’s case we told you about how court documents indicated her foster mother wanted to have more of a voice throughout hearings.

Three years after Mummert was killed by her biological mother, a newly signed law is working to take a step in the right direction to hear from family members in court hearings about what could be in the child’s best interest.

This law is giving more rights specifically to what’s called “kinship caregivers” and CBS 21’s Elise Person explains what this means for them and how it could help *some* children and families in the system.

Well kinship providers or caregivers are essentially foster parents, but one the child knows; so that can look like an aunt or uncle, grandparent or even family friend.

Advocates say children do much better in a kinship placement after being removed from their parents’ care.

But before House Bill 1058 was signed into law this month, they didn’t have any legal rights to speak up in a courtroom.

“I think generally the voices of kinship caregivers are it’s priceless,” says PA kinship caregiver Bobbie McBurney.

“Most grandparents I would say at least ones that I’ve talk to aside for the challenges will always come back to you they wouldn’t have done any differently,” says McBurney.

They were granted custody after the kids’ mother entered rehab and the father was in prison.

Bobbie says when it came time to advocate for the children to be placed in their care, they felt heard by the courts.

“And it went relatively smoothly.”

However, that’s not always the case.

Philadelphia’s Democratic representative Rick Krajewski sponsored House Bill 1058, which allow kinship care providers to speak directly to a judge what they believe is in a child’s best interest.

He says the idea was brought to his office by a constituent who felt she couldn’t advocate for herself in her nephew’s placement case.

“We’re seeing it on the regular. What’s going on with the kids, whereas with a formal system, you know their processes in place that would let’s say even if a call was made they could come on a day that they’re not going to see what we might see on the regular that might cause them to make a very different decision in terms of the well-being of that child ,” McBurney states.

PA Family Support Alliance works to support and educate all families involved within Pennsylvania’s child welfare system but less than 42 percent of children in Pennsylvania are placed with kinship caregivers.

Director of programs for the nonprofit organizations says House Bill 1058 will now allow kinship providers to have more of a voice during the placement process. Which hopefully will increase the number of placements.

“So if I was an aunt walking to the court room to help support my niece, I wouldn’t have been able to have that judge hear from my voice what I thought l would be best for my niece whereas now I would have that chance,” says Haven Evans, Director of Programs for PA Family Support Alliance.

Prior to House Bill 1058, Children and Youth Services would do kinship finding; meaning they would take as much information from family or close friends and then provide that information to the court in order for a judge to make a decision on where the child or children should be placed.

The language in the bill also allows the judge to decide after those placement hearings, if the kinship provider can participate in future hearings.

Now PA Family Support Alliance does say this bill doesn’t remove the role of Children and Youth, they will still do kinship finding and relay information to the courts if necessary on behalf of kinship providers.

They added while this is a win and a step in the right direction, there is still more that needs to be done to support kinship families and children in the system; and representative Krajewski says the passing of this bill allows for them to begin looking at continued legislation to bring more consistency across all counties, for all families in the child welfare system.

From WHP Harrisburg, December 27, 2023

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