2013 was a difficult year for the child welfare system in Kentucky as budget estimates failed to cover its growth and several funding cuts were made. Among these cuts was the kinship care subsidy, which helps kinship parents shoulder the additional cost of raising their relatives. Now, kinship parents across the state are coming together through what Kentucky grandparent Norma Hatfield calls the “Grandma Underground.”
Across the nation, kinship care has largely been considered the way forward in child welfare. As covered in our previous article, “Kinship Care in the United States: An Overview,” we explained how child welfare in the US is shifting to rely more and more heavily on kinship caregivers. This comes in the wake of studies and other evidence that life with relatives provides fewer disruptions and more positive outcomes for children in care. To ensure fewer disruptions, kinship programs employ what is known as “presumptive eligibility” – that is, the state presumes that a relative caregiver is eligible to be a foster parent and will place the child with them before the standard background checks and inspections are completed, with the understanding the caregiver in question complete such processes as soon as possible. Presumptive eligibility also allows kinship caregivers to receive the kinship care subsidy while being processed.
In May of 2016, the White House held a special “hackathon” for foster care as a part of the “#HackFosterCare” initiative. Hackathons are events in which problems are presented that the participants attempt to solve with programming solutions, and former foster youth and founder of Think Of Us Sixto Cancel embraced this idea as a way for communities to approach technology in foster care.
The child welfare system is large and, when including the sea of nonprofits and associated organizations, has many working parts. As the nation moves forward and attempts to ensure that the system serves its children as best as it can, the integration of technological solutions becomes a necessity. From social media to smartphones, foster parents, foster children, social workers and volunteers are constantly changing the technology they engage with and through. Because of the changing tides of tech, foster care organizations have a unique opportunity to re-investigate and resolve problems that crop up because of their own consistent evolution.
It’s this opportunity that Cancel hopes to seize by hosting foster care hackathons across the country.
Widely regarded by child welfare professionals as the best placement option for foster children, kinship care has been on the rise in the United States. Collectively, child welfare agencies have been pushing for more kinship placements as reports show that outcomes improve for children placed into the care of relatives. These kinship care trends are signs that our child welfare system is working. From a legislative standpoint, however, the major breakthrough in kinship care came in the form of the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCSIA, also known as the Fostering Connections Act).
Laying the Groundwork for Kinship Care Trends
Passed in 2008, this bill paved the way for kinship care throughout the nation. Although “kinship care” as a concept was introduced to the US child welfare system as early as 1978 (way it was vs way it is link), it wasn’t until 1990s that it was regulated and supported by federal funds, becoming endorsed by the federal government as a specific program within foster care. At that time, more than 75% of the children in kinship care were in private or unlicensed homes.
On September 6th, 2016, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced that the state was placing a record number of children in care with relatives. This form of foster care, in which children are placed with direct relatives or close family friends and often relies on a special kinship waiver, is known as kinship care.
Of kinship care, Governor Malloy said:
“We know that the trauma children experience from being removed from their home is significantly diminished if the child lives with someone they know and love – a family member or another person with an established connection. We are building a system for the future and this is another milestone in that effort.”
This system for the future is already making great progress. At the time of his announcement, Governor Malloy boasted that 42% of all placements in the state were kinship placements, the highest level the state ever achieved and close to double the amount of such placements compared to five years ago. In a world where kinship is rapidly becoming the new gold standard for child welfare, these numbers represent tremendous progress in helping minimize the trauma associated with entering the foster care system. Continue reading
When engaged with the child welfare system, one tends to focus on the negative – the drug-addicted mother, the negligent parent or the unexpected family tragedy that often sends children into foster care. Despite the difficult emotions that come with these situations, it must be remembered that the foster care system is intended as a place of hope, opportunity and growth for these young lives. This quarter, the Foster Success Spotlight falls on Cleo Bell.
Cleo Bell before accepting her award at the FAFS Recognition brunch.
A freshman at Chestnut Hill College, Cleo stands as a shining example of success in the wake of tragedy.
Her biological mother passed an addiction to crack cocaine to newborn Cleo, who was hospitalized for the first eight weeks of her life as a result. Thanks to Cleo’s maternal grandmother, her eventual adoptive mother, June, was informed of Cleo’s birth and circumstances. June jumped at this opportunity to care for Cleo. Continue reading
Congregate Care: The Case for Closure
Some believe that group homes and congregate care in general provide only a band-aid for a bigger problem. Though they do provide a necessary service, they are increasingly seen by child welfare agencies as an inadequate solution to the issues facing the national child welfare system. Aside from the fact that regulation varies from state to state (resulting in large differences in the handling of such facilities), group homes and Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs) often put children at a great distance from their families.
Buildings on Waisenhausplatz in Bern – Switzerland
One such group home employed by the state of New Jersey, Devereux, is actually located in Florida. Judge David Bazelon with the Center for Mental Health Law, writes:
“…far too many children are placed at a great distance from their homes. For example, most District of Columbia children in RTCs are placed outside the District—many as far away as Utah and Minnesota. Many families, especially those with limited means, find it impossible to have any meaningful visitation with their children.”
Bazelon continues on to suggest that although it is accepted that children do best in close proximity to their families and with consistent parenting, many governments still rely on distant, out-of-state facilities. To further complicate the problem, residential treatment centers are “inherently artificial” environments, where the child is unlikely to encounter any of the behavior triggers one might encounter outside of an institution. In a bleak reminder of the consistent care that children require, Bazelon goes on to cite a study that shows nearly 50% of children in an RTC get readmitted, and “75% were either re-institutionalized or arrested.”