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Kentucky considers broadening definition of kin for guardianship

Family guardianship could take a step ahead in the 2019 Kentucky legislature with a bill that would amend the law to include fictive kin in the kinship care law.

Fictive kin are those who have an emotionally significant relationship with a child but are unrelated by birth or marriage, such as a long-term foster parent.

Two senators have introduced a bill into the Kentucky Legislature to recognize fictive kin when determining guardianship.

Kentucky isn't the first state to examine such an expanded definition. In 2017, Illinois defined fictive kin to include an individual who has been a foster parent of a child for at least one year. Other states have enacted similar laws.

The need is great

When a child needs to be placed away from his parents, keeping that child with a family member remains the top priority. But sometimes placing a child with family isn't an option and the child must be placed in a foster home.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of children in foster care in the United States was:

  • 404,878 in 2010
  • 398,057 in 2011
  • 397,153 in 2012
  • 400,989 in 2013
  • 415,129 in 2014

Sometimes children develop a strong relationship with parents at a foster home. If the relationship is strong enough, foster parents have sought to adopt the children. But sometimes adoption isn't the best option, especially if parents refuse to give up parental rights. That's when caretakers look to establish legal guardianship over the child but have been frustrated because guardianship almost always favors familial relationships. This bill seeks to address that problem.

The bill would also make federal programs available to fictive kin who become a guardian while living on a fixed income, including food stamps and rental assistance. The move makes financial sense, the senators argue -- foster care costs about $70 per day per child while kinship care provides the caregiver about $10 per day per child.

The bill has been introduced in the 2019 Kentucky Legislature by Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, and Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington. The session begins Jan. 8, 2019.

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