Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers

Chapter I:

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1.1 Background

Since the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, which established the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, much attention has been given to reductions in the number of welfare cases. Welfare cases declined nationally by 52 percent, from 4.4 to 2.1 million cases, between 1996 and 2001 (DHHS, 2002b). During the same time frame, however, child-only cases (defined as a case in which no parent is present or included in the assistance unit [AU]) declined by only 25 percent (DHHS, 2002b; DHHS, no date).

TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers represent approximately half of the child-only TANF population. However, little information exists to describe this population and how they are being served. This study was designed to compile available information on their characteristics, service needs, and well-being; and to improve our understanding of how states are addressing the needs of children in child-only cases.

This study was funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The study was conducted by RTI International and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study team particularly appreciates the contributions of TANF and child welfare agency staff who participated in the case studies.

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1.2 Pathways to Kinship Care

Children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers may be cared for in either informal or formal kinship care. Informal kinship care is arranged privately between parent and caregiver; formal kinship care (also known as relative foster care) occurs when children are in custody of a public child welfare agency as a result of abuse or neglect. Relative caregivers providing informal kinship care have the option of seeking support from their TANF agency through the child-only grant. Caregivers in formal kinship care arrangements who meet training and home requirements may be licensed and compensated as foster parents. Those who cannot, or choose not to, meet licensing requirements have the option of seeking child-only TANF support. (1)

TANF child-only grants thus support relative care arrangements both within and outside the child welfare system. The nature of the kinship caregiving arrangement and the financial support provided depend on interactions between the caregiver and the child welfare agency and on local policies for kinship care.

Figure 1-1 depicts the conceptual framework for this study, with child-only TANF supporting both informal and formal kinship care arrangements. The figure models the combinations of events that determine whether a child enters formal or informal kinship care, and whether the relative caregiver is compensated through the foster care system, TANF child-only coverage, or not at all.

Figure 1-1.
Pathways to Kinship Care

Pathways to Kinship Care

* CWA: Child Welfare Agency.

The boxes with heavy borders in Figure 1-1 represent relative caregivers in informal kinship arrangements. Caregivers may be supported by child-only TANF or may receive no financial assistance. While some children no doubt enter relative care without experiencing maltreatment, case study data indicates that many have experienced maltreatment that would have triggered intervention had it been known to authorities. Others would have been at risk of maltreatment if not for the availability of a relative willing to assume care of the child.

The shaded boxes illustrate formal kinship care arrangements, in which maltreatment has been substantiated and the child is in custody of the state child welfare agency. State policies and caregivers' willingness and ability to complete foster parent licensure determine whether the caregiver receives foster care stipends, kinship stipends, child-only TANF, or no financial support.

The boxes with both shading and heavy borders illustrate some of the overlaps between formal and informal arrangements. On the left side of the figure, the child who is maltreated may or may not enter child welfare agency custody, depending on the circumstances of maltreatment, choices made by the parent, or the availability of a relative willing to intervene. States vary in the extent to which they offer flexible licensing arrangements or otherwise encourage kinship care providers to become licensed. The distinctions have implications for both children and relative caregivers with respect to service access, financial support and ongoing supervision.

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1.3 Research Questions

This study described the population of children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers and their interactions with the TANF and child welfare systems. The study used a mixed-method design to address the following research questions:

Researchers used three complementary strategies to address the research questions:

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(1) Of course, some caregivers in informal kinship care arrangements, and unlicensed caregivers in formal kinship care, may provide care with no public financial support. The fact that approximately 400,000 children are in child-only TANF with relative caregivers (DHHS, 2000), compared to the estimated 2.3 million children in kinship care (Billing et al., 2002) suggests that unpaid care is the most common of all financial arrangements.

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