Kinship Navigator Programs:  How the FFPSA Empowers States to Help Kinship Parents

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), recently passed through Congress, has massive implications for kinship caregivers in the United States.  As previously reported on this site, kinship care, the placement of children with relatives instead of traditional foster parents, has been increasingly viewed as the best form of foster care.  This is largely because it uses a child’s existing connections with family for placement instead of relying on people whom the child may not know and might have trouble integrating with.  Traditional foster care placement, although intended to serve the best interests of children, often introduces its own brand of pain and trauma when a child is removed from their family.  Unfortunately, existing practices in the child welfare system have created momentum in states which can lead to kinship care being underfunded when compared to traditional foster care or congregate (group home) care placements.  Over the course of more than fifteen years, Kinship Navigator Programs (KNPs) have been gaining traction as a way to bolster informal kinship care to provide better outcomes for the children living with relative caregivers.

Initially started as state and county-based initiatives, KNPs gained their first national sponsorship through Family Connection Grants provided by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.  However, with only two rounds of these grants occurring in 2009 and 2012, KNPs have not been able to truly flourish in every state.  According to Grandfamilies.org, as a result of budgetary crises, only the KNPs in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Washington state have survived into the present day.

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The State of Kinship Care Legislation 2017, Part II: The Way Forward

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series. To read Part 1, “The State of Kinship Care 2017: Best Intentions,” click here.

In Part 1 of this analysis, we discussed the issues California was facing as it rolled out its resource family approval (RFA) process. We began exploring the ways that all kinship caregivers across the nation encounter obstacles as they attempt to provide the best care for their children. Specifically, we delved into federally-based solutions that Congress has begun implementing, but these broad stroke measures, while helpful, simply cannot directly address some of the issues that individual states face as they promote kinship care initiatives. Often, these issues stem from the unforeseen consequences of operating within a bureaucracy as state governments attempt to balance the rights of parents (both biological and foster) with the best outcomes for children in kinship care.

kinship caregivers

For instance, California’s RFA process that is now preventing kinship caregivers from receiving stipends was intended to take only 90 days. However, in their attempts to impose more rigorous standards for resource parents and provide better outcomes and avoid tragedies (See: “Foster Care Negligence, Abuse and Death”), legislators accidentally created a practice that was inhibiting placements. According to the Chronicle of Social Change, despite the launch of the reforms “some county workers were unaware that extended family members were able to receive money from the state as resources families.” With workers unaware of the most up-to-date legislation, the child welfare system effectively functions under old, outdated laws.
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The State of Kinship Care Legislation 2017, Part I: Best Intentions

Every year, child welfare agencies across the country are increasing their emphasis on kinship care, a form of foster care that gives placement preference to relative caregivers instead of traditional foster parents who are strangers to the children placed with them. Widely recognized as the better way to care for foster children, kinship care legislation has been making its way to law for the better part of the last decade. However, kinship placements are very different from traditional ones – the complex intrafamily dynamics and unique family relationships combined with support systems that fail to account for these aspects of kinship care often mean that legislation can fall short of helping relative caregivers. In 2017, California introduced its Resource Family Approval process (RFA), a reform that, in part, aims to register and financially compensate relative caregivers in the same ways that the state handles traditional foster parents.

A typical complaint of relative caregivers is a lack of state support so this reform seemed to be, from the legislators’ perspectives, a slam dunk – getting these kinship families registered with the state would make it easier to pay them the appropriate stipends while also linking them up to necessary supports beyond the traditional financial assistance.

Very quickly, however, flaws with the system began to emerge. “I’m actively expecting my landlord to show up at any point in time and hand me a three-day notice and start the eviction process,” Mahoganie LaFranks, a Los Angeles kinship provider, said. “I love this kid, but I am completely petrified.” LaFranks had begun the RFA process in September of 2017, but had been caring for a teen since January. By the time December rolled around, the process was still not complete – meaning LaFranks was not receiving the $923 monthly stipend that resource families typically receive in California. With many new responsibilities regarding the teen but without the extra money, LaFranks found herself behind on rent and struggling to find a job that fits into her parenting schedule. Continue reading

Appealing to Kinship Care: US Supreme Court Sides with Kentucky Kinship Parents

States continue to put more of an emphasis on kinship care with each new study that backs the benefits of placing children in the care of relatives rather than traditional foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center found that nationally the number of children in both formal and informal kinship care grew by nearly 100,000 between 2012 and 2015. However, while the national number continues to grow, Kentucky has witnessed a decline from nearly 55,000 children being raised by relatives in 2014 down to 53,000 just a year later.

kinship parents

Paula Sherlock, the chief judge in Kentucky’s Jefferson Family Court, told the Courier Journal, “Some relatives simply can’t afford to take custody of children without financial support.” As covered in our previous article, “Grandma Underground: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy,” the impact the 2013 state budget cuts had on kinship parents which resulted in them losing their monthly subsidy. Sherlock went on to say that, “I think the loss of Kinship Care has been a definite deterrent to relative placement… For people on fixed incomes, taking in a grandchild is a serious financial issue.”
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Medical Issues of Children in Kinship Care

States across the nation continue to focus on increasing the number of foster children placed with relatives as more studies are finding there to be benefits of kinship care over traditional foster care. A 2015 study by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) found that 30% of the total population of children in care consisted of children being raised by a family member or close family friend. While the long-term benefits of kinship care are well documented, the time following the child’s placement in the care of relatives can be turbulent as both adults and children face a complex challenge: the medical issues of children in kinship care. These troubles can result in undiagnosed physical disabilities and developmental delays that may be harmful to the child’s schooling and day-to-day life.

Medical Issues of Children in Kinship Care

Medical Issues of Children in Kinship Care

Most kinship cases happen unexpectedly, leaving caregivers with a short amount of time to take in all of the information covered during the licensing process. Even with the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act (FCA) of 2008 easing the requirements for kinship caregivers, it can be a challenge for them to remember all of the intricacies of the policies.
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“Grandma Underground”: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy

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.”

Kinship parents receive funds thanks to the Fostering Connections Act.

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.
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