State Kinship Care Policies for Children that Come to the Attention of Child Welfare Agencies
This paper reports the findings from a 2007 survey of state kinship foster care policies. The survey is a follow-up to surveys conducted by the Urban Institute in 1997, 1999, and 2001. The data from the survey show that states continue to see kin as a valuable resource and encourage the use of kinship care as both a temporary placement and a permanency option for children. Key findings from the survey include:
- About half of the states reported that their child welfare agencies would not have ongoing involvement with children who are living with kin in private arrangements even if these arrangements were the result of abuse or neglect by the birth parent and the kinship caregivers sought assistance from the agency. As a result, there are limited resources available through child welfare agencies for those who do not formally become involved with the child welfare system.
- Most states encourage and/or require caseworkers to seek out kin who can care for children to avoid placement in foster care. There has been a significant shift in the number of states that acknowledge the practice of diverting cases from state custody in which a child has been removed from their home because of substantiated abuse and/or neglect.
- Most states typically will not open a child welfare case when kin are available for placement, and instead divert children from foster care. Agencies generally do not provide reunification services in these instances. However, most states reported that if a voluntary case is opened when children are diverted from foster care, reunification services are provided to the child’s birth parent if this is consistent with the permanency goal.
- In just under two-thirds of the states, kin are permitted to care for children in state custody without meeting all of the same licensing standards that non-kin foster parents must meet. Twenty-two states require kin caring for children in state custody to be licensed just as non-kin foster parents, but allow, on an individualized basis, a waiver or modification of one or more standards that non-kin foster parents are required to meet. Twenty-three states allow kinship caregivers caring for children in state custody to be assessed using a separate approval process.
- In 21 states, kin do not have to go through the full licensure process to have the option to receive a monthly foster care payment. On the other hand, 22 states allow kin to care for children in state custody while receiving a lesser payment than the monthly foster care payment.
- Most states give kin caring for children in state custody the option of pursuing guardianship; however the amount of ongoing financial assistance and support services available are often not comparable to those provided for kin who pursue adoption. Over half of the states that allow guardianships do not use the same assessment standards when assessing kinship caregivers for guardianship and adoption. About one-third of the states do not have ongoing financial assistance for guardianships. An additional 10 states have ongoing financial assistance for guardianships, but the amount is less than the amount of ongoing financial assistance available for kin who pursue adoption. Over half of the states that allow kinship caregivers to pursue guardianship do not offer the same amount of post-permanency services that is offered for kinship caregivers who pursue adoption.
- About one-fourth of the states would not give preference to noncustodial parents over other kin when considering them as placement options for their children who are involved in the child welfare system.