Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers. 4.3.1 Formal and Informal Kinship Care


Section 2.4 characterized two forms of 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. A child who has experienced maltreatment may enter either formal or informal kinship care, depending on whether maltreatment was first identified by the system or by a concerned relative willing to take responsibility for the child. The implications for the child are substantial in terms of access to services and case management. While the TANF system is designed primarily for economic support, child welfare agencies are able to offer higher levels of financial support, greater access to services, and ongoing case management. However, many relatives avoid contact with child welfare agencies for fear that children might be placed in nonrelative foster care. The following paragraphs outline these distinctions; more detailed descriptions of practice in the study states are provided in Section 4.4.

A major difference between formal and informal care is in the financial support available to relative caregivers. Table 4-3 shows the difference in monthly financial support between child-only TANF and foster care, assuming relatives are licensed foster care providers. Child-only TANF grants for a single child range from $89 (Oklahoma) to $349 (Washington), while foster care payments range from $360 (Oklahoma) to $535 (Maryland). Because child-only TANF grants increase by progressively smaller increments as the number of children increases, the differences for multiple children are even more substantial.

Disparities between child-only TANF grants and foster care stipends are substantial in each of the five states, but vary in degree. In Louisiana and Oklahoma, the child-only TANF grant for a relative caring for three children is equivalent to 22 percent of the foster care stipend for three children. Washington's TANF grant for a single child is much closer to that of foster care (82 percent), but the ratio drops to 43 percent for three children. In Wisconsin, the only state of the five that provides full support for additional children, the child-only TANF grant is equivalent to 66 percent of the foster care stipend regardless of family size.

Table 4-3.
Financial Support for Formal and Informal Kinship Care
  Louisiana Maryland Oklahoma Washington Wisconsin
Informal Kinship Care: Program Name Family Independence Transitional Assistance Program (FITAP) Kinship Care Subsidy Program (KCSP) Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) Child-Only TANF Child-Only TANF Voluntary Kinship
1 child $122 $300 $213 $89 $349 $215
3 children $240 $900 $477 $241 $546 $645
Foster Care(a) Payment:
1 child $365   $535 $360 $427 $326
3 children $1,095   $1,605 $1,080 $1,281 $978
(a): Basic foster care stipend for 9-year-old child (Child Welfare League of America, 2001).

Service availability also varies according to whether a child is in formal or informal care. When children are in child welfare custody, the agency, as legal parent, is required to ensure that they receive needed services, such as diagnostic evaluations and mental health services. While difficulties in accessing needed services certainly occur, services are part of a court-ordered treatment plan and the presumption is that they should be provided. By contrast, services to children in informal kinship care may include financial supports such as Medicaid for children, child care for working caregivers, and annual supplemental or emergency funds. Even this limited set of supports was not available to all children in the study states. Relative caregivers who are elderly may have access to additional services such as support groups, kinship navigators, and resource guides.

"I was told that they would need to give the children to child welfare, and then child welfare would decide if they would give the children back."
Relative caregiver, Oklahoma

Another area of distinction is seen in case management provided to children, including initial assessments and ongoing supervision. Children in formal kinship care receive a comprehensive assessment early in the custody period, and are visited every 1 to 3 months by a social worker whose training is child-focused. For children in informal kinship care, intake and ongoing services are typically focused on eligibility requirements, and conducted by a financial service worker who is not required to have had any training in child development. Children are not required to be present during these interactions. Assessments for child-only cases, when conducted at all, were described as "conversational" inquiries as to whether services or assistance were needed. Caregivers who request help may be referred to a social worker.

Many relative caregivers participating in focus groups described serious maltreatment situations from which they had removed children. They reasoned that the care they provided was keeping these children out of the foster care system, and questioned why they received so much less financial support and fewer services than foster parents. A few described contacting child welfare agencies and being told that because the children were safely in the care of relatives and not currently being abused or neglected, the child welfare agency had no authority to provide services to them. Some child welfare agencies offer services to children in informal relative care on a preventive basis, such as family preservation services available in Maryland. However, few relative caregivers said that they would voluntarily approach the child welfare system, even for desperately needed services. They worried that if "the system" became involved they might lose custody of the children due to their age or the condition of their homes.

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