On Their Own Terms:  Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care

Chapter V:
Alternative Kinship Care Programs Service Delivery

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Some alternative kinship programs primarily provide financial assistance, others focus on providing non-financial, supportive services, and still others provide a combination of financial and non-financial services. This section describes how caregivers learn about and become involved in the alternative programs we visited and then describes the types of services they receive through these programs.

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Program Outreach and Referral Sources

The alternative programs visited rely on referrals and outreach to reach relative caregivers and provide their service offerings. Child welfare agencies and, to a lesser degree, TANF agencies are the primary referral sources for the alternative kinship care programs visited. Many programs also receive referrals from other community agencies or from caregivers themselves. Some programs conduct outreach efforts in order to reach a broader group of families.

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Financial Assistance

Thirteen of the 23 alternative programs initially identified as not providing subsidized guardianship do not provide financial assistance. However, financial assistance is a key component in many of the programs we visited (see Table 4). In programs providing a monthly payment, the payment may continue until the child reaches the age of 18 or 21. Some programs, in addition to providing a monthly payment, provide emergency financial assistance or financial assistance targeted for specific items, e.g., furnishings, school clothing.

"I felt so low when I had to apply for benefits. But I knew it was for my [grandchild]."

Table 4:
Financial Assistance by Study Program
Program Financial Assistance
Monthly financial payment Emergency financial assistance Other (school clothing allowance)
A Second Chance, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA) Yes. Payment equal to foster care rate. Yes. Yes. Quarterly clothing allowance and program has child clothing bank.
Grandparents and Kinship Program (Denver County, CO) Yes. Payment for one child is close to foster care rate, 3 times as much as TANF child-only. Payment for more than one child is less than foster care rate. Yes. Yes.
Relative Caregiver Program (Florida) Yes. Payment approx. 76% of foster care payment, twice TANF child-only payment (65% of foster care rate when clothing allowances and other payments to foster parents taken into account). No. No.
The Kentucky Kinship Care Program (child welfare) Yes. Payment is 50% of foster care rate, 160% of TANF child-only rate. Yes. One-time start-up payment up to $500 per child. Preventive assistance funds up to $500/family once per year. No.
The Kentucky KinCare Project (support groups) No. No. No.
The Kinship Support Network (San Francisco, CA) No. However, majority of clients are receiving foster care payment. Yes. No. Program has child clothing bank and food bank.
Oklahoma No. No. Subsidized respite care

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Financial payments are just one type of service that alternative kinship programs may provide. The programs we visited often include a case management component combined with an array of other types of supportive services. Some programs' service offerings are more comprehensive than others and some focus on providing services primarily designed to meet the needs of the adult caregivers while others focus more on addressing the needs of the children.

Caregiver Support Services

Alternative programs visited recognize the emotional toll that caregiving takes on many relative caregivers, especially grandparents. Kin are unexpectedly shouldered with the responsibility of taking on a new caregiving role later in life or caring for children in addition to their own. Many of the services provided to relative caregivers (e.g., support groups, transportation, child/respite care) are designed to relieve the isolation experienced by kinship caregivers.

Support Groups

"And right away I knew this [support group was] what I needed. I came in there full of denials and I had all kinds of things that [I was] keeping from the other ladies-not being able to admit that my son was a drug addict, not being able to admit that my family wasn't this ideal family…and it was very difficult for me to lay myself out to the people…but none-theless I did and now I talk more than any-one."

Most of the alternative programs visited organize or facilitate the development of support groups for relatives (particularly grandparents) caring for kin. Support groups offer caregivers a source of emotional support and practical information. Both kinship caregivers participating in the focus groups and program staff considered support groups a valuable and helpful service.

Kentucky's support group program operates 29 groups and uses the groups for distributing information about available services in addition to providing a supportive sharing forum. For example, officials from Kentucky's State Children's Health Insurance Program have presented at several support group meetings. Denver's program contracts with a private provider, Catholic Charities, to organize its relative caregiver support groups. In Denver, group facilitators noted that the support groups initially focused on meeting primary needs such as food and housing by bringing in community partners who donate monthly food baskets. Over time the support groups have evolved to address parenting skills, dealing with the adult children's substance abuse, loss and grief issues, defining roles and legal issues with experts invited to discuss these issues.

"If it had not been for this group, I would not have known what to do. I would never have lasted."

Support groups differ by whether they are led by professional facilitators or whether they are more loosely organized. The Kinship Support Network's kinship support groups in San Francisco--known as Grandparents Who Care--are peer run by a caregiver who has received facilitator training. A coordinator oversees all the support groups. Kentucky's support groups are tailored to meet local needs. Some of the groups have developed internal leadership with the grandparents running the program.

The San Francisco Grandparents Who Care support groups are held throughout the community in churches and schools and are held both during daytime and evening hours. There are groups for Latino caregivers and one for Korean caregivers. Pittsburgh's program provides support groups for caregivers, children and birthparents. Denver currently has support groups running in three communities with plans to expand into two largely Latino neighborhoods. A program staff member was also organizing a support group for grandfathers.

Respite Care, Transportation, Child Care

Three important supports which kinship care programs can offer are respite care, transportation assistance and child care assistance. Child care is often provided as a way to enable caregivers to engage in activities which provide respite or attend support groups. In addition, access to child care subsidies can enable caregivers to combine caregiving responsibilities with employment.

Respite care may be provided through a variety of arrangements. Denver's program organizes some group activities which provide needed respite for caregivers. The Kinship Support Network in San Francisco provides organized activities for children, fulfilling the dual objective of providing developmentally appropriate activities for children and affording caregivers a respite period while children engage in these activities. For example, adult caregiver group activities, such as an outing to the mall, are often scheduled to coincide with children's activities. In Pittsburgh, A Second Chance provides both emergency respite (a range of one hour to ten days is offered) as well as a grandparent respite cooperative. Older kinship caregivers in Oklahoma can receive vouchers to purchase respite care services through the Oklahoma Respite Resource Network. This network represents a collaborative state agency, including the Division of Aging Services, to provide funding for respite services. Caregivers may select the respite provider of their choosing so long as the provider is 18 years or older and does not live in the same household.

Some programs attempt to alleviate transportation problems for caregivers. Pittsburgh's A Second Chance program provides extensive transportation to caregivers and children. The program provides transportation for children's visitation with birth parents, medical and other appointments, and for recreation activities. In Denver, the alternative kinship program provides transportation assistance in the form of city bus tokens.

Relative caregivers often have little information on the availability of child care in their community. Several of the alternative programs attempt to provide or coordinate with other programs for child care. In Florida, one of the major benefits of the relative caregiver program is that caregivers can obtain subsidized child care (on a sliding scale) until the child turns 12 years of age. In comparison, state policy requires Florida's TANF program to limit child care assistance to a six-month period for relatives in child-only assistance units. The Kinship Support Network includes after school tutoring three days each week and provides child care during support group meetings. Kinship Support Network families involved with the public child welfare system are also eligible for child care through that agency for one year if the caregiver is working or in school or the child has special needs.

Services for Children

Alternative programs visited are less likely to provide an array of services for children. However, children in kinship families involved with child welfare agencies--Kentucky's child welfare alternative program, Florida's statewide program, and A Second Chance in Pittsburgh--are eligible for many services to address their needs (e.g., Medicaid, mental health). Programs not administered by a child welfare agency are recognizing the needs of children being raised by relatives. Denver's program provides referrals for children's activities including referrals to Big Brother/Big Sister programs and payments for special talents (i.e., music lessons, registering for sports teams). The program is also trying to address children's mental health needs through referrals to therapists.

The Kinship Support Network provides some services specifically for children including recreation activities and an after school tutoring program.

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A Different Service Delivery Approach

Two of the programs visited, A Second Chance in Pittsburgh and Edgewood's Kinship Support Network in San Francisco, offer interesting examples of how community-based organizations can work alongside the traditional child welfare and TANF agencies to provide comprehensive services for kinship care families. Both are private agencies with contracts from public child welfare agencies. In Pittsburgh, A Second Chance employs a strength-based approach, focusing on the positive rather than negative aspects of a child's extended family. Staff also stress the cultural responsiveness of their service delivery model. Staff defer to the kinship triad (the child, birth parent, and kinship caregiver), and build services around the client. For example, staff will modify their workday to accommodate a family's schedule. Staff also stress that kin can make the difference for their own family unit, families are the change agents, staff merely facilitate. A Second Chance program also focuses on reunification with the birth parent; 60 percent of kinship care children in the program return home within six months of placement. The program involves birth parents extensively.

In San Francisco, Edgewood's Kinship Support Network aims to provide services to kinship families that are not intrusive, building upon families' strengths, and involving families in planning for their children. The overriding objective is to keep families together if at all possible. After an assessment of needs, case management is provided if it appears that the caregiver would benefit from the individualized attention and support. The program has no limit on the amount of time caregivers can receive case management and the length of time varies by individual. The Kinship Support Network's model recognizes that caregivers' situations and circumstances are dynamic and there may be periods after case management has ended when it makes sense to reassign a case manager.

Many of the Kinship Support Network's case managers are kin caregivers themselves. In the early years of the program, virtually all of the case managers were kin caregivers who shared the same socioeconomic and demographic characteristics as the participants. This model, in which staff understand what the families are going through because they have been through some of the same experiences, promotes an empathetic and trusting relationship between caregiver and case manager.

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24. We have very limited information on the support services provided by subsidized guardianship programs, but do note that many provide some support services beyond finanicial payment.

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Last updated:  10/29/01