Family being there to support one another during hard times is nothing new. The idea of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren or aunts and uncles providing for nieces and nephews is perhaps as old as time itself. What started as a traditional practice among relatives has now evolved into a leading form of foster care.
Conventionally, kinship care has been provided without the inclusion of child welfare agencies. Instead of involving the state in family affairs, adults have taken on the responsibility of taking care of the abused and neglected children within their families.
During the Industrial Revolution, there were only two options for children who were not being properly cared for by their biological parents: living with other family members or at the local orphanage. At the time, financial assistance wasn’t an option, so families had the charge of making ends meet on their own.
According to a white paper written by Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) entitled, “The Changing Landscape of Foster Care,” orphans and children whose parents could not afford to take care of them became indentured to work for other families. Religious institutions established organizations that counted on donations from the community to operate. At the time, the homes were very rarely monitored, and the safety of children in care was in question. The first federal children’s bureau was established, and the first state laws protecting children were passed by the early 1900s.
As the years progressed, child welfare agencies formed throughout the country. Federal legislation was also passed to increase the quality of care for children who could not live with their biological parents.
Kinship Care: The Way It Was vs. The Way It Is: Grandparents to the Rescue
In 1978, kinship care became a formal part of the child welfare system across the country. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that kinship care was considered a specific program within foster care. While benefits spread nationwide, each state determined – and still determines – the type of assistance that will be provided. For example, not all states provide subsidies to kinship providers.
In the late 1990s, more than three quarters of children lived with relatives who were private or unlicensed kinship care providers, giving care without involvement from a child welfare agency or juvenile court system.
Grandparents have traditionally been the primary caregivers for the children in their families in need of kinship care. According to an article in the New York Times, the number of grandparents raising grandchildren has increased by 7 percent since 2009. Meanwhile, the amount of children in foster care increased by almost 1 percent in 2013 and 3.5 percent in 2014 to more than 415,000.
According to the same article, “Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures.” Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), while helpful, have proven to be insufficient for grandparents and other relatives to provide for the needs of the children in their care.
According to a fact sheet provided by the Child Welfare Information Gateway entitled, “Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System,” grandparents are the go-to providers for kinship care, but they are struggling financially. Factors like fixed incomes and chronic illness force families to live in poverty. Sadly, cases of substance abuse, incarceration and mental health disabilities and diseases like HIV/AIDS all play major roles in the need for care outside of the home.
Kinship Care: The Way It Was vs. The Way It Is: Facing and Overcoming Barriers
In addition to financial struggles, other challenges arise in unlicensed kinship care due to the legal barriers kinship providers face. Difficulties in enrolling children in school and authorizing medical care make the arrangement more harrowing.
Only recently has there been a push for kinship care as the primary source of foster care.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requires that, among other things, child welfare agencies find and notify all grandparents and adult relatives within 30 days after children are removed from their homes.
New Jersey has been ahead of the curve in the kinship care movement. In February of 2006, the state’s “Manual of Requirements for Resource Family Parents” added kinship care as an option for children who have been removed from their biological parents.
Kinship providers who go through the process of becoming licensed are eligible for services for their relatives like medical care and resources like monthly stipends that will aid them. The benefits for licensed kinship parents in NJ are now the same as licensed foster parents.
However, this isn’t true in all states. For example, South Carolina provides subsidies to licensed foster parents but not licensed kinship parents.
If you have any questions about kinship care in NJ, contact Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS).
If you live outside of NJ, please contact your local child welfare agency.