June 2023Vol. 24, No. 5Family Is Best: Reflections on Kinship Care and Preserving Family Connections
In her article “Kinship Matters: Reflections From the Bench on Preserving Children’s Right to Family” for the fall 2022 issue of Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly, Judge Edwina Richardson Mendelson reflects on the importance of kinship care and family connections for children’s well-being. She discusses how kinship care within the child welfare system has evolved over time and briefly reviews the past and present kinship care legal landscape in her jurisdiction of New York State and nationally.
Judge Richardson Mendelson highlights recent efforts in New York to support kinship care as the first placement choice for children who have been removed from the care of their parent or other primary caregiver. These include an emphasis on extensive kin- and family-finding activities and an expansion of the state’s Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program, which aims to ensure timely permanency for children who do not have feasible adoption or reunification options. Both efforts were part of the state’s preparation for Family First Prevention Services Act implementation. She also shares resources that offer support and guidance for kin caregivers, such as the New York State Kinship Navigator Program and Grandfamilies.org.
Judge Richardson Mendelson also considers what judges in every state can do to encourage the option of kinship care and support kin caregivers:
- Lead from the top by making kinship care a priority topic in communications with child welfare agency leadership.
- Lead from the bench by treating everyone with respect, engaging with families about their needs and concerns, asking questions, and ensuring agency accountability.
- Advocate for resources, such as accessible legal representation for families and kin.
- Lead with humility and humanity by setting a courtroom tone that is open minded and respectful.
This issue of Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly focuses on the theme “Family Is Best Interest.” Throughout the issue, articles call the reader to consider what “best interests of the child” means in child welfare, how subjectivity around the understanding of “best interests” can lead to decisions tinged by implicit or explicit bias, that children tend to do better when their connections to family and kin are preserved, and how legal and child welfare systems can work to preserve family and kin connections for children’s well-being. Other featured articles include the following:
- “Securing and Restoring the Family Is in the Child’s Best Interests,” by Jey Rajaraman, with Alexandra Travis and Iesha Hammons. Jey Rajaraman, a family defender who worked with Legal Services of New Jersey, shares what she’s learned through her experiences in working to keep families together. Alexandra Travis and Iesha Hammons share their lived experiences as mothers with child welfare involvement.
- “Best Interest Determinations: Lessons Learned From Tribal Child Welfare Agency, Court Professionals, and Youths," by Angelique Day, Claudette Grinnell-Davis, and Dakota Roundtree-Swain, explores how and why tribal courts operate differently and, in some cases, more successfully than state and county courts when applying best interest determinations, and it provides recommendations for future judicial practice for all court systems.
Access the fall 2022 issue of Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly and learn more on the Family Integrity & Justice Works website.