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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Kinship Care Trends Across the Nation

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.

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Kinship Caregiver Challenges – Where to Turn

Kinship Caregiver Challenges & Concerns

kinship caregiver challenges

Photo by Ricardo Santeugini

Kinship caregiver challenges are very similar to challenges faced by foster parents, but the emotional impact of raising a relative’s child is unique. While foster parents make a conscious, well-planned decision to take a child into their home, kinship caregivers often have to make the decision quickly and without preparation. Also, because the child is family, there are complex emotions that kinship parents must cope with, including being torn between the needs of the child they’re caring for and, in many cases, the wants of their own child.

There are many topics of concern that kinship caregivers face; here is a partial list: Continue reading