Relative care comprises the largest single category of child-only TANF grants nationally, with approximately 50 percent of child-only grants going to kin (DHHS, 2003). National data indicate that this trend is not isolated to the TANF population and that increasing numbers of children in both the TANF system and the child welfare system are being cared for by kin. According to the 1997 National Survey of America's Families (NSAF), 1.8 million children were in kinship care arrangements (Ehrle, Geen, and Clark, 2001). By 2000, this number grew to approximately 2.3 million children (Billing, Ehrle, and Kortenkamp, 2002; Edelhoch, 2002). The rise in kinship care is attributed to a number of factors: the decline in the supply of traditional foster homes; the contemporaneous increase in the need for out-of-home placement for children; the movement in child welfare services favoring kinship care; and changes in funding practices for kin (Berrick and Barth, 1994; DHHS, 1998; DHHS, 2000). PRWORA authorized states to give preference to kin when placing foster children (GAO, 1999).
A better understanding of relative care is helpful in understanding its potential impact on child well-being in child-only cases. Much of the research to date on relative care does not focus on children who receive child-only TANF grants, but rather on children in kinship care through the child welfare system. While children receiving child-only TANF grants are sometimes included in studies of relative care, they are very rarely isolated for analysis, making any findings difficult to attribute to the TANF child-only experience. However, some general findings regarding relative care and child well-being offer insight into the well-being of children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers. These findings are presented below.