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LAS: Discretion Essential in Vetting Relatives of Children in Foster Care

The Legal Aid Society, together with pro bono partner Dechert LLP,  has filed a class-action lawsuit challenging state and city policies and practices that deny children in foster care ready, willing and able family members as foster or adoptive parents.

Under current law, a potential kin foster parent must be barred from certification if they have previously been convicted of any one of nearly 300 mandatory excluding crimes, even if the crime took place decades earlier and even if officials believe that person can provide a safe home.

“New York has a very broad, extensive list of convictions that would automatically disqualify a family member as compared to other states nationwide,” said Kate Wood, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice.

The suit calls for state and local oversight and accountability over foster parent certification, as well as more discretion when evaluating relatives, such as in the case of eleven-year-old T.H., who was recently profiled by CBS 2 New York.

T.H. is currently being cared for by his Aunt and Uncle, but due to a 1992 robbery conviction, his Uncle is disqualified from fostering a child. This status means T.H. is denied the financial supports, medical benefits, and services essential to his well-being. It’s a dilemma faced by many families who want to care for blood relatives but are denied support.

“They’re remaining in the home of the relative but not being provided the same supports and services that they would be if they were in foster care,” Wood said.