Several weeks ago, I was a member of a workshop panel at the 2014 Child Welfare League of America’s National Kinship Care Conference. It was a great experience – I was able to connect with state representatives, advocates, and researchers working on a variety of kinship issues—issues facing grandparents, relatives, and close family friends (also known as fictive kin) who are raising children either inside or outside of the child welfare system. My panel shared our findings from a 2012 study on states that have Title IV-E guardianship assistance programs (GAP). Established in 2008 by The Fostering Connections Act, GAP provides financial assistance for grandparents and relatives who care for children who have been removed from their parents due to child abuse or neglect. The program allows children and families that meet federal and state requirements to achieve permanency and exit the child welfare system, while continuing to receive financial support. Currently, 31 states, the District of Columbia, and four tribes have GAP programs.
Our report, Making it Work: Using the Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) to Close the Permanency Gap for Children in Foster Care, discusses findings from a series of interviews with the states that have taken up the Title IV-E GAP option. The report describes challenges, goals, state-specific policies, and strategies for success, to support states interested in developing GAP programs of their own, as well as to provide states with existing GAP programs with resources and strategies from other states that may prove helpful.
Kinship care plays an important role in our country. Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report on new 2012 data on co-resident grandparents, stating that “about 2.7 million grandparents were ‘grandparent caregivers’ (those who had primary responsibility for grandchildren under 18 years living with them).” We also know that children placed with relatives make up over a quarter of all children in the foster care system. Title IV-E GAP represents notable spending by states. Child Trends’ recent child welfare financing survey found that in state fiscal year 2012, 24 states claimed nearly $63 million through GAP, almost $57 million directly supporting guardianship assistance payments. And remember, these numbers are from 2012. There are now 31 states, D.C., and four tribes participating in GAP.
On September 29, President Obama signed into law the new federal legislation to support children and youth in foster care, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. The Act includes several supports specifically for kinship families and children who achieve permanency through GAP. One provision fills a major gap identified by states during our interviews. It allows GAP assistance to continue for successor guardians—guardians who provide care for a child when his or her guardian is unable to continue being a caretaker, due, for example, to death or illness. Before this provision, some states had to reopen child welfare cases or even place children in foster care when a guardian died or became incapacitated. The Act also increases incentives for states to move children from foster care to permanent guardianship and extends the Family Connection Grant Program, which funds activities to find and support families of children and youth in foster care.
With this renewed federal support, this is an exciting time for the kinship care community. We are eager to see how states implement these programs and continue to support children and the families that raise them, whether parents, grandparents, cousins, kin, or friends. While attending the conference, my own parents watched my two children for the week. As they happily handed them back to me when I returned, I was again reminded of the hard work and sacrifice that so many grandparents and relatives accept to care for their children.
Elizabeth Jordan, Senior Policy Analyst