In this CASA Deep Dive, we’re taking a look at kinship care: what it is, why it is important, its benefits and what advocates can do to assist kinship caregivers.
What is Kinship Care?
Removal is a traumatic process for a child, as they are taken away from the only home they know, often with little awareness of what is occurring and why. From there a placement must be found for the child so that they have adequate care and safety. Typically, a Family Group Decision Making conference is held, and those involved each recommend a family member or friend who would be a possible placement option for the child.
While these children can be placed in foster homes, group homes or a group care facility, the preferred placement is with someone with whom the child already has a strong relationship. This is called kinship care. For someone to qualify as a kinship caregiver they must have a significant relationship with the parents or child and a shared history over a period of time where the caregiver has observed the child’s development or witnessed the changing dynamics of the family. Additionally, a kinship caregiver must be knowledgeable of the child, the child’s family composition, dynamics, experiences and values.
It is not required that a kinship caregiver be related to the child. A kinship caregiver who is not related to the child is known as fictive kin. Individuals who could be possible kinship caregivers include, but are not limited to, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, family friends, counselors and teachers.
The majority of kinship placements are informal – arranged by families without any interaction with the state. We currently do not know the number of informal placements currently in Texas as the state does not track that data set, but the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates the current number of informal kinship care placements at about 200,000, while formal placements were totaled slightly above 50,000 for Fiscal Year 2018. Both formal and informal kinship care placements are frequently unforeseen, creating a large burden for the families accepting responsibility to care for a child or sibling group.
What are the benefits of kinship care and why is it preferred?
There are many benefits for a child when they are placed into kinship care rather than placed in a traditional foster home, where they know no one. When a child is placed with a relative or someone else they know, they experience less trauma during the placement process and have a better feeling of stability than if they were placed in a foster home. Sibling groups also have a higher chance staying together if they in kinship care.
Since kinship caregivers already have a relationship with the family, visitations for the birth parents can take place in the kinship caregiver’s home with the caregiver monitoring the visits, making them less formal and clinical for the child and parents.
Kinship care is also more likely to keep a child within their community of origin, creating a positive ripple effect on many aspects of the child’s life. By staying in their community, a child is more likely to remain in their same school and benefit from its support system while also maintaining connections to their cultural identity. Moreover, children are able to better maintain relationships with their birth parents and relatives.
Children generally have a more positive opinion of kinship placements and are more inclined to wish for the kinship placement to become their permanent home if family reunification is not an option. Once a child who has been in a kinship care exits the foster care system, they are less likely to re-enter.
What are some barriers to finding kinship placements?
Lack of financial and personnel support. The amount of financial support from the state given to both formal and informal kinship placements falls short of the cost of raising a child by a substantial margin. The financial support given to formal kinship caregivers typically comes after the child has been with the placement and does not fully cover the cost of raising the child. The support available for informal placements is even more limited and mostly comes from monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF provides minimal financial support typically resulting in $100-300 a month, depending on income and household size. Informal kinship caregivers can also apply for SNAP food benefits, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. There is also a one-time grant of $1,000, only available to grandparents raising grandchildren. None of these programs are guaranteed, as they are contingent on approval based on income, need and household size.
Subsidized day care is sometimes available for formal kinship placements, but depends on employment, other assistance received and the age of the child. No daycare assistance is offered by the state for families with informal placements.
Personnel support is also lacking, for both formal and informal kinship placements. Formal placements receive a kinship caseworker, but kinship caseworkers have a larger caseload than their conservatorship caseworker counterparts. Informal kinship placements receive no state personnel support and have to figure out what resources are available to them on their own.
Criminal history. Criminal background checks present an obstacle for many formal kinship placements. Certain convictions create automatic bars for placements. Other convictions or criminal involvement lead to the caseworker making the decision on whether the placement is appropriate and safe. This creates uncertainty for many possible placements.
Relationship dynamics. The dynamics of a kinship placement can be difficult for many families to navigate. In formal placements, absolute and spontaneous visitations by the birth parents can be blocked by court order, creating an uncomfortable situation for those involved. The situation can become even more difficult for grandparents taking care of grandchildren, as they may have to bar their own child from seeing their child. These dynamics also affect informal placements, but to a lesser extent as there are usually no legal barriers preventing visitation.
Spontaneity. Kinship placements, both formal and informal, frequently occur unexpectedly and caregivers do not have time to prepare to receive the child or sibling group in question. This compounds the financial and support burden placed on the caregiver.
Placement process. Individuals who are prospective formal kinship placements may not want to deal with the complicated process for accepting a child. Home evaluations required for formal placements, depending on the case, may require changes be made to the home. For example, medication and firearms must be stored securely. Having a background check, home evaluation and caseworker involvement can deter some from accepting a kinship placement.
Rights as a guardian. Informal kinship caregivers will have difficulty consenting on behalf of the child, as they have no legal right to do so. Situations involving medical care, schooling and obtaining records can be extremely difficult to navigate if the caregiver has no legal authority over the child.
What Can Advocates Do to Help?
Demystify the process. The process of becoming a kinship caregiver and the continuing work required can be extremely confusing and overwhelming to those who have never interacted with child welfare services. Explaining the legal process and what will be required of the kinship caregiver in the future will establish the expectations of the caregiver going forward and make them feel less uncertain about the entire process.
Connect them with resources. By connecting kinship caregivers with resources, they will be able to provide more effective and stable care for the child. Local resources can sometimes be more impactful than those provided by the state, making all the difference for a caregiver who is already strained on time, money and attention.
Be there. Providing emotional support to a caregiver can make them feel as though they are not alone while they deal with the changes involved with adding a child into their household. Giving them someone to call when they have a question or issue can reduce stress for the caregiver, making the household better overall for the child.
Help with the licensing process. Formal kinship caregivers can get licensed by the state and be eligible to receive more benefits as a result. While the process for licensing can be arduous, it ultimately results in greater amount support for a longer amount of time for both the caregiver and child. By promoting licensing, advocates can ensure that formal kinship caregivers are aware of the full range of benefits that they can apply for.
For many children, kinship placements can greatly improve their experience with out-of-home care, keeping them closer to their communities and loved ones. Though there are challenges, so many gracious individuals step up and take on the duty of caregiver. Supporting kinship caregivers can create a better environment for the entire household— bolstering the positive effects kinship placements already have on children and youth.
References & Recommended Reading
- Department of Family and Protective Services – Services to Kinship Caregivers Resource Guide
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission – Help for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
- Department of Family and Protective Services – Kinship Care Overview
- Department of Family and Protective Services – Letter to Caregivers Regarding Financial Support