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Published by Kathleen Dearinger

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Published by: Kathleen Dearinger on Nov 28, 2008
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xtended family members have longplayed a role in caring for childrenwhen their parents were unavailable todo so,a practice commonly referred to as“kinship care.While the state,through thechild welfare system,has only recently begunto rely on relatives as foster parents for chil-dren at risk in their own homes,the practicegrew substantially in the past decade. Thisgrowth,and federal legislation encouragingstates to place foster children with familymembers,has thrust kinship care into thepolicy spotlight,igniting debateswithin the child welfare andwelfare systems about how topublicly support kinshipcare families.When the Adoptionand Child Welfare Act of 1980 was passed,form-ing the basis of the feder-al foster care law,it wasalmost unheard of for achild’s relative to act as afoster parent. More than twomillion children in the UnitedStates now live in kinship carearrangements; 10 percent of these,or approxi-mately 200,000,are foster children.
Much of the growth in the use of kin as foster parentsoccurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s; forexample,between 1986 and 1990 the propor-tion of children in state-supported kinship careincreased from 18 to 31 percent.
Thoughexperts cannot pinpoint the cause of theincrease—whether more children are enteringkinship care arrangements or more kinshipcare arrangements are being formally recog-nized by the state—the upward trend contin-ues,with the majority of states reporting thatthe proportion of the foster care caseloadaccounted for by kinship care has increasedsince 1994.
This growth and the high cost of fostercare,which averaged $6,000 per child in 1996,pushed policymakers to take note of kinshipcare.
However,it was the 1996 welfarereform act that officially encouragedstates to give relatives first priorityin providing care for fosterchildren,solidified the roleof kinship care as a federalpolicy issue,and provokeddiscussion among policy-makers as to how welfarepolicy would affect kin-ship care.
During the 1996 wel-fare reform debate,childadvocates pointed out poten-tial unintended consequencesof the welfare reform legislationthat could influence the receipt of kinship care. Specifically,they noted that oneparticular type of welfare payment for whichkinship care families were eligible,child-onlygrants,would not necessarily fall under theproposed new work requirements and timelimits. Advocates raised the concern that par-ents might leave their children with relativesto avoid the new welfare requirements but stillpreserve assistance in the form of child-only
Family Care or FosterCare? How State PoliciesAffect Kinship Caregivers
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Series A,No.A-34,July 1999
A product of 
“Assessing the NewFederalism,
” an Urban Institute Program to Assess Changing Social Policies 
Shelley Waters Boots Rob Geen
 More than two million children in the United States nowlive in kinship care arrangements;10 percent of these,or approximately 200,000,are foster children.
They also worried that kin-ship care providers,who used to carefor children informally,would seek assistance from the child welfare sys-tem if forced to meet welfare require-ments.
In 1997,the Urban Institute sur-veyed state foster care administratorsto gather information on state poli-cies for identifying,licensing,andfinancially supporting kinship carefamilies. Previous to this study,littleinformation existed on state kinshipcare policies.
Defining the Term“Kinship Care”
Because kinship care has manyforms,it is helpful to think of it as acontinuum of interventions and sup-port. At one end are private kinshipcare families,with no contact at allwith the child welfare system. In themiddle are kinship care familiesknown to the system but not formallya part of it,some of whom may bereceiving support services. At theother end are families caring for chil-dren in state custody and receivingongoing attention from the child wel-fare system. For the purposes of thisbrief,a “publickinship care childrefers to a child whose placement wasarranged by child welfare authorities,whether or not the child was takeninto custody by those authorities.
Policies Affecting PublicKinship Care Families
Our survey reveals the variationsstate child welfare agencies havedeveloped in their policies for publickinship care. States can differ in threeprimary ways:(1) who they considereligible caregivers,(2) how theylicense or approve family membersfor caregiving,and (3) how they sup-port kinship families within the childwelfare system.
 Eligible Caregivers
The types of relatives who can pro-vide care for foster children vary bystate. Of the 50 states whose adminis-trators responded to the Urban Institutekinship care survey on this question,26stated that their policies mandate thatfamily members must be related to achild by blood or through marriage to ablood relative. Twenty include a varietyof additional categories such as neigh-bors,godparents,and other adults whohave a close relationship with the child,and the other four have no formal defi-nition. Regardless of how states definekin,almost all give preference to rela-tives over non-kin foster parents,andmany actively work to recruit familymembers to care for children in the fos-ter care system.
 Licensing Caregivers
In order to care for a child in statecustody,foster caregivers must firstbe licensed,or approved,by the statechild welfare agency. The standardsupon which kinship caregivers areassessed for licensure vary (figure 1).In states with the most stringentrequirements,kinship families aresubject to the same standards thatgovern non-kin foster families—theymust be “fully licensed.Almost allstates (44 out of 50 responding)reported that these families receivevisits by caseworkers who providesupervision and intervention,just likenon-kin foster parents. Fully licensedfamilies are often eligible for all thebenefits and supports available to anon-kin foster parent,including fostercare maintenance payments,respitechild care,and other support services.Other states maintain less strin-gent requirements. For example,some kinship families meet all excepta few of the licensing standards.States often waive specific licensurerequirements (such as physical spaceor training) for kinship families,aslong as they do not jeopardize thesafety of the child. Other stateslicense kinship families under a set of criteria established especially forthem. Usually these standards are lessstringent,focusing more on childsafety and family support than on reg-ulations that are difficult for some kinto meet and could prohibit a familyfrom staying together. Some statesallow relatives to care for childrenwith minimal standards and minimalsupervision—sometimes called unli-censed kinship care.To clarify the different ways inwhich they evaluate kinship families,we asked states to specify the avail-able options for licensing relativecaregivers within their state. Moststates (including the District of Columbia) offer more licensingoptions to kin than to non-kin fosterparents. In 41 of the 51 states,forexample,relatives have at least onelicensing option besides the licensingstandard applied to nonrelative fostercare providers. In the remaining 10states,family members can only care
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Figure 1Public Kinship Care:Requirements to Become a Foster Parent
Few or norequirements;often calledunlicensedSeparateapprovalprocess forkinWaive someof fullstandard’srequirementsFull standardsfor licensing—same asnon-kin
Child Welfare Agency
for children in state custody if theycomply with all state policies forfoster caregivers.Many of the 41 states with moreflexible requirements for kinship fos-ter care have more than one licensingoption for kinship homes. Forinstance,Maryland has two otheroptions available for relatives besidesa fully licensed standard:They caneither get licensed by the foster careagency under less stringent criteria(and receive a foster care payment),or they can be considered an unli-censed home,meet even less strin-gent requirements (usually onlysafety requirements),and apply forwelfare benefits. The licensingoption a kinship caregiver choosescan be a function of family prefer-ences as well as state policy.
Supporting Caregivers
Payment of kinship foster care-givers varies according to the licens-ing a caregiver receives (table 1).When relatives have the samelicensing as non-kin caregivers,thevast majority of states allow them afull foster care payment.
As seen infigure 2,of the 41 states that offer aless stringent standard,22 still pro-vide a foster care payment to kinshipcaregivers. In the 19 states that do notprovide foster care payments to thesefamilies,usually the only compensa-tion available is some type of cashwelfare grant,which in almost allstates is less generous than a fostercare payment.Some states require kinship care-givers to meet additional criteria. Forexample,in California,no matterwhat licensing standard a familymeets,if the children in the relativehome are not from a poor family (asdefined by the welfare eligibility of the home they left),the relative fami-ly cannot get a foster care payment,regardless of the relative family’s ownincome. Missouri has even more com-plicated criteria for foster care pay-ment eligibility. It specifies that allgrandparent caregivers can receive afoster care payment,but any othertype of relative can receive foster carepayments only if they are caring forchildren who come from a poor fami-ly (also defined as welfare eligible).In both these states,all other kinshipcare families must rely on welfare forfinancial assistance.
Future Policy Challenges
Many factors determine how akinship care family is treated. Policiesvary from state to state,and even with-in a state different families may receivea wide range of care. The survey of state child welfare administratorsunderscores that kinship families inmost states (41) are held to a less strin-gent standard for foster family eligibil-ity than nonrelative foster families.However,about half these states do notprovide foster care payments to thekinship families meeting a lower stan-dard,leaving them to apply for welfareor other government assistance,whichis typically less generous.Because foster care payments areusually higher than welfare grants,these payment differences result instark differences in the resources pro-vided to public kinship care familieswithin and across states. For example,in Maryland,a child being cared forby a relative licensed as a foster care-giver would have received $535 to$550 a month for care in 1996. A sim-ilar child in the same state being caredfor by a welfare-assisted relativewould have received only $165 amonth for a basic child-only grant.These differences become evengreater when there are multiple sib-lings in care; the welfare payment isprorated on a declining scale whenthere are multiple children,whereasfoster care payments per child remainconstant regardless of the number of children in the household. Two chil-dren living in Maryland with relativeslicensed by the foster care systemwould have received $1,070 to $1,100a month,but two children financed bythat state’s Aid to Families withDependent Children (AFDC) pro-gram in 1996 would have received$292 a month.
Further,a public kinship carefamily might be paid a foster carepayment in one state while the samefamily licensed by the same standards
 o. 3 W I   S MI   S  S  U  S  OI   O S  O S  S 
Figure 2Licensing Standards and Payments forKinship Foster Parents
Less stringent licensingoption for kinship care.Receive foster care pay-ment.Less stringent licensingoption for kinship care. Pay-ment is generally lower thanfoster care rate.Kin must meet all fostercare requirements to carefor a child in the foster caresystem. Receive foster carepayment.

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