On Wednesday, April 29, 2020, CWLA hosted the “Kinship Navigator Response to Covid-19 Pandemic: Virtual Assistance Kinship Navigator” webinar. It is the first of a two-part series, highlighting the importance of virtual assistance for kinship caregivers and what kinship navigators are doing to help these caregivers virtually during Covid-19. The webinar was facilitated by CWLA’s Director of Program Development, Charlene Ingram, and the panelist included Gerald Wallace, Rae Glaser, and Ryan Johnson from the New York State Kinship Navigator.

During this webinar, panelists discussed special supports and adapting services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They described in detail typical services and offered guidance on best practices in response to COVID-19. The panelist also explored how virtual kinship navigators are enhancing supports via “virtual case management,” conference calls, online webinars, chats, and other virtual services.

The face of kinship care film details who kinship caregivers are including grandparents, relatives, and non-relatives who provide full-time care for children in their home. Wallace distinguished the difference between the term kinship care and “grandfamilies.” He reiterated that federal legislation support the use of the word kinship highlighting the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act and shared the memo that the New York Kinship Navigator’s program developed. He would also define the difference between informal and formal kinship care.

He also highlighted the importance of kinship care to the child welfare system by addressing the number of kinship children. As of 2018, there are 4.2 million kinship children, resulting in about 65 percent of grandparents who are kinship caregivers. Approximately 140,000 those children live in foster care with a relative. Finally, Wallace discussed the importance of safety plans in kinship care, which are considered “hidden sources of informal kinship care.”

Glaser discussed the remote services provided by New York State Kinship Navigator in more depth. In addition, she provided information on common kinship issues such as legal authority, financial assistance, and education. She also discussed the importance of educating kinship caregivers on their legal options based on their circumstances. Lastly, she addressed the process of referring kinship caregivers to local assistance, such as local kinship programs and legal services.

Johnson discussed the Virtual Case Assistance (VCA) pilot project in greater detail. This project was developed to create additional kinship-focused supports for caregivers who may need help applying for benefits, getting connected to community resources, or other forms of support. According to Johnson, “Virtual Case Assistance is offered in selected counties in New York where there is no “on the ground” help available to kinship families.” The project covers Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Onondaga Counties. Johnson goes on to highlight the services provided, such as the facilitation of referrals and benefits applications, assignment to a virtual case assistant who will stay with the case for six months, and extensive follow up from a kinship navigator.

Kinship care is vital to promote the well-being of children for many reasons. It helps preserve children’s cultural identity and community connection, minimizes trauma, increases permanency, improves behavioral and mental health outcomes, promotes sibling ties, etc. Therefore, kinship caregivers need to have the support and services they need to raise these children. The New York State Kinship Navigator program’s staff are dedicated to doing just that.

For more information, resources, and access to future webinars about this program, please visit https://www.nysnavigator.org/. Part 2 of this series will take place on Wednesday, March 6, 2020, from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.