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Funding kinship care a priority for children and families committee

When her grandson was placed in foster care, Kynia Love began a three-year process to become his caregiver, even as he moved through six different foster homes. She was finally successful earlier this year.

“Having my grandson in my care has been an exceptionally healing experience for both of us,” Love wrote to the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee ahead of its Tuesday hearing.

Her letter was one of several submitted in support of HF1661, sponsored by Rep. Kim Hicks (DFL-Rochester), that would fund grants to help kinship caregivers connect with community resources such as financial and legal assistance, housing and health care to ensure better outcomes for children.

Kinship care is commonly defined as the full-time care of a child by relatives, members of a tribe or clan, godparents, stepparents or other adults who have a family relationship to the child. It is estimated that for every child in Minnesota being raised by kin in the foster care system there are six being raised informally by kin.

The bill was first laid over by the committee in February 2023. Members adopted a delete-all amendment to the bill Tuesday, before again laying it over.

Hicks said the amended bill simplifies language and provides appropriations based on the amount of money it is hoped will be available.

It would appropriate a total of $9.4 million over three fiscal years beginning in fiscal year 2025 for a preventing foster care placement kinship grant program and an additional $3.9 million in fiscal year 2025 for grants to public and private agencies to support current and future relative caregivers. 

“Anybody who has been in the child welfare space knows that the formal system is traumatic. Period. Full stop,” Hicks said. “… Supporting folks as soon as they’re able to step up is the best way to have child-centered long-term outcomes that are, hopefully, the least traumatic.”

Joanna Woolman, executive director of the Institute to Transform Child Protection at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, has spent nearly 20 years representing parents and kids in child welfare cases and said those clients must often navigate a complex series of systems that confront them.

“There is no right to counsel for a grandmother seeking to care for their grandchild, seeking to keep them from entering foster care and there are very few lawyers in this state with expertise in this area,” Woolman said.

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) is particularly excited about the bill and expects it to move forward in some form if the committee is able.

“As [committee] chair, I will say, to my mind, this kinship care feels like a really high priority in the child-protection space,” he said. “Because we know from research and commonsense that a connection with the family is so important for kids.”

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