Kentucky’s Kinship Problem: Unlicensed and Unsupported

A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found the number of children in kinship care rose by 18 percent in the last decade across the country. However, only five percent of that number are living with licensed kinship families.

licensed kinship families

Currently, there are 2.5 million children in kinship care – both informally and formally (licensed by the state). This is five times the number of children in foster care.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky now has the highest rate of children living with relatives at nine percent, more than doubling the national average of four percent. From 2013 to 2018, the number rose from 53,000 to 96,000 in Kentucky with only 15,000 having been placed by the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) child protection staff.

While kinship care is considered to result in better outcomes for children, it can come at a great financial cost for the families involved. Data from the Chronicles of Social Change shows that 44 states witnessed a rise in kinship care. However, in 23 of those states, less than half of these families have received any financial assistance.

Nearly every kinship caregiver can receive financial assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). However, less than 12 percent receive TANF. With a majority of children in the care of a relative having not been placed by the state, these families are not entitled to the same benefits that licensed families receive. For unlicensed families who know where to look, services do exist across the nation that offer some financial relief.

While the numbers continue to swell, those caring for a relative’s children in Kentucky are left on their own to figure out how they will cover the costs. As covered in our previous article, “Appealing to Kinship Care: US Supreme Court Sides with Kentucky Kinship Parents,” the state has been ordered to reinstate funding to its kinship care program that would offer $300 a month to those caring for a relative’s child. However, even though money was allocated for the program in July, it has yet to be used to help these parents.

Between 2012 and 2018, Illinois experienced a 25 percent increase in the number of kinship homes, while non-relative foster home decreased 12 percent. Bryan Samuels, executive director of Chaplin Hall, told the Chronicles of Social Change, “Fewer and fewer foster parents are coming forward so it’s not surprising that in Illinois, or in other states, you see this increasing trend of relying more on relative homes.”

This trend can create financial problems for some kinship families in Illinois, where kinship caregivers are not required to be licensed by the state, which impacts the amount of financial assistance available to them. In 2012, the number of unlicensed and licensed kinship families was almost equal. By 2018, there was a 59 percent increase in unlicensed homes and a seven percent drop in licensed families.

James McIntyre, president of the Illinois Chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, believes, “that the state is asking the parents to take more of a financial risk for the child if they are not licensed…They should provide more resources for these families.” Licensed resource parents in the state receive a board rate ranging from $418 to $511 while unlicensed kinship caregivers are only given between $286 to $310 for taking in a relative’s child. Adding to the financial strain, the rates for both parties have not increased since 2013, while the cost of living continues to rise.

For April Funches, an Illinois woman, taking in her three-year-old niece greatly affected her budget and endangered her job security. Funches said, “They (DCFS) give a little stipend to help take care of her and I work seven days a week. I go with the flow and make sure she has what she needs.”

In New Jersey, there are 65,000 youth living in both formal and informal kinship care which represents three percent of all children within the state. Of those 65,000, only 2,200 live in licensed kinship homes and receive full support from the state. An estimated 4 in 10 children in the foster care system are with kin. However, with the passage of Family First Prevention Services Act, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Christine Norbut Beyer said she would like to see that number rise to 6 (or ideally 8) out of 10.

The primary source of support for unlicensed kinship families comes through the Kinship Navigator Program, which provides information on government services and local support groups. Within New Jersey the Salvation Army, Family Service Association, Care Plus New Jersey and Children’s Home Society provide access to the Kinship Navigator Program. Through this program caregivers can receive “wrap-around services” that cover one-time and short-term expenses such as moving costs, clothing and tutoring. There is also a 2-1-1 line that caregivers can call for additional information, support and to be put in contact with one of these agencies. Along with the Kinship Navigator Program, there are several other organizations unlicensed families can turn to for support like KinKonnect, New Jersey Self-Help Group Clearinghouse, New Jersey Adoption Resource Clearing House (NJ ARCH) and Grandma K.A.R.E.S., Inc.

Licensed kinship families in New Jersey can turn to Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) for a direct line of support. These families are entitled to the same benefits as foster parents. Along with having access to the same supports as other foster parents, kinship caregivers can also take a training from FAFS titled “Issues in Kinship Care” that discusses the unique challenges they may face while caring for a relative’s child.

To learn more about kinship care in Kentucky, click here.

To learn more about New Jersey’s Kinship Navigator Program, read our blog on it here

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