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
N E W F E D E R A L I S M N E W F E D E R A L I S M
I S S U E S A N D O P T I O N S F O R S T I S S U E S A N D O P T I O N S F O R S T A A T E S T E S
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.