The growth in kinship foster care has been one of the more closely watched trends, and hotly discussed topics, in child welfare over the past decade. Where available, the numbers verify that rapid changes in kinship caregiving have indeed occurred. Figure 3.1 portrays recent foster care caseload growth in California, Illinois, Missouri, and New York, and breaks this growth into kinship care and non-related placement components. While the patterns for the individual states differ in interesting ways, the important role of kinship care in foster care caseloads is apparent. In New York and Illinois, kinship placements were clearly the "growth sector" of foster care, either leading or absorbing (depending on interpretation) most of the rapid growth that occurred in each system during the observed period. In California and Illinois, kinship care either almost equals or exceeds other forms of foster care in frequency. In all four states, kinship care has grown at a more rapid pace than other types of foster care. However, none of these states showed a decrease in non-relative foster care cases during the period of growth in kinship foster care, implying that there is no apparent process of simple movement of foster care cases between classifications.(12) Only two observations can be made from these four graphs that suggest the growth of kinship placements might soon approach some limit. First, although it has increased in recent years, the level of kinship care has remained much lower in Missouri than in the other three states. Second, New York State has actually seen a reduction in the size of both components of its foster care caseload from 1991 through 1994.
In most of the analysis that follows, kinship foster care will be addressed at its April 1990 levels in order to allow direct comparison to the enumerated counts from the 1990 census. This is necessary because the census is the only stable and reliable source of information on the comparison population of interest, informal kinship care, across places. When discussing a clearly dynamic phenomenon, analysis based on examination of a single cross-section potentially involves some loss of information. Because our real interest is in the present (1996) and future, the question is whether analysis of 1990 patterns can tell us anything about current relationships. Looking at the four graphs in Figure 3.1 we can see that, in terms of the overall relation of kinship foster care to non-relative foster care, the 1990 levels are similar to the post-1990 levels in each state except Illinois. Although there is no assurance that other attributes of these groups have not changed, their overall levels have maintained the same basic relation across the 5 year interval. In Illinois, the kinship foster care population grew by over 150 percent between 1990 and 1994, so some additional information will be necessary to allow us to consider how the 1990 findings developed here might be relevant to current issues.