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.
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.