Informal and Formal Kinship Care. Movements of children between living arrangements over time


Records for individual children receiving AFDC grants in Illinois have been matched to records from the Foster Care tracking system through probabilistic record-linkage procedures. This process identifies those children who have had contact with both public systems, with the result that any child's foster care events can be joined directly with that child's AFDC events to create a combined "welfare-career" history. The population studied includes all children who were AFDC recipients and/or foster children any time between June 1990 and June 1995.

Using this linked file, we examined the interrelationship between the AFDC and foster care populations of Illinois, and identified and analyzed the transitions of children that do (or do not) move between contacts with these two systems over time. In this analysis, we are particularly interested in information that helps to characterize the formal and informal kinship populations. In the previous section, we considered some of the characteristics of these populations. Here, we can start to describe where the children in each type of kinship care come from, how likely they are to shift program auspices or care arrangements, where they go when they leave kinship care, and whether the same children tend to become involved in both informal and formal kinship living situations.

The movements among living arrangements are examined by considering annual transitions between living arrangement categories as identified by the yearly June cross-sections compiled from 1990 through 1995. As with the previous analysis, each child can be classified by one of the four program categories -- AFDC/Parent, AFDC/Relative, Kin/FC, and FC/Other. For the dynamic analysis, we also classify inactive participants into one of three non-program categories -- Not Yet Born, Aged Out (18+), or Out of Scope. "Out of Scope" is a residual category, invoked when none of the other six statuses apply. In many cases, this reflects a positive situation; such as when a child is living with his or her own parent(s) in economic self-sufficiency. But, the "out-of-scope" does not necessarily imply a positive setting, it just means that the child is currently not involved in either of the two programs being tracked.

Data describing annual transitions of children between these categories is presented in some detail in the Appendix to this section. For clarity, most of the information presented here is based on a pooled average of the five separate June-to-June transition periods. For the most part, data pooling has the effect of stabilizing and simplifying the results, without distorting them.(23)

Table 4.5 presents the basic transition matrix for the AFDC/Foster Care categories. Each cell represents the average number of children living under the arrangement described on the left (row label) in one June, and, who then lived in the arrangement described at the top (column label) in the subsequent June. The cells along the diagonal, shaded for easy recognition, contain cases of net non-transition -- children living in the same class of living arrangement in both the initial and the subsequent June. Each cell off of the diagonal represents a particular group of "movers" and each cell on the diagonal represents a certain type of "stayers.(24) We should read Table 4.5 with statements like "there was an average annual movement of 317 children from AFDC/Relative homes to Kin/FC placements," or, "of 430,955 children who receive AFDC in their parent's care in one June, 328,945 are still active as AFDC/Parent cases in the following June."

Transition rates "from" a status: Table 4.6a converts the counts from Table 4.5 into annual transition rates: the proportion of children that start in their prior status and that end up in their subsequent status. Close examination of Table 4.6a suggest that this annual "transition" matrix is indeed dominated by "stayers." The stationary tendency of these living arrangement groups is apparent because the proportions in each cell along the diagonal is over .700, meaning that over 70 percent of these children can be expected to end the year in the same type of living arrangement where they started the year; 70.5 percent of AFDC/Relative children and 79.6 percent of Kin/FC children are "stayers" in the average year. Movement between these statuses is infrequent: the most likely transitions observed are to "age out" and "out-of-scope." The largest transitions between program categories are .070 from AFDC/Relative to AFDC/Parent and .079 from FC/Other to FC/Relative, with both types being shifts within the same agency.

The transition rate of children from AFDC/Relative to Kin/FC is twice as large as that from AFDC/Parent to Kin/FC. This suggests that living in kinship arrangements outside of the foster care system increases the likelihood that the child will move to foster care kinship placements. But the magnitude of these transitions -- each less than 2 percent/year -- is much smaller than might have been expected based on arguments posing that a process of "inappropriate" substitution of Foster Care for AFDC has fueled the growth of kinship foster care in Illinois. This evidence, based as it is on annual net transitions, cannot convincingly deny the substitution argument, particularly if the hypothesized living arrangement status changes from "other" to "AFDC Kin" to "Foster care kin" would be expected to occur very quickly. In the absence of fully longitudinal event data, it suggests that this pattern of event processes is probably rather uncommon. Clearly there has not been any widespread movement of long-term AFDC/Relative cases into Kin/FC.

As might be expected given the high proportion of "stayers," the evidence suggests that kinship placements -- especially formal foster care placements -- are unlikely to lead to reunifications with own-parents of the child. The "observed" reunifications here are transitions to AFDC/Parent, while the "unobserved" reunifications are an unknown subset of the "out-of-scope" category. An average of 7 percent of AFDC/Relative cases shift to AFDC/Parent annually, compared to only just over 3 percent of Kin/FC cases. About twice that many from each group shift into the out-of-scope group, which includes own-parents not on AFDC, kin placements not on AFDC, moves out of Illinois, or placement in any program not tracked here (mental health, detention, etc).

The same information is shown in Table 4.6b, focusing on changes by looking only at the proportionate distributions of "movers" across the destination status. Of those children who leave AFDC/Parent, over 9 in 10 either age out (.102) or move out (.825) of the domain of programs being tracked. Formal and informal kinship groups are somewhat more intertwined with other program categories. About one-third of AFDC/Relative "movers" and over one-half of Kin/FC "movers" shift to other program settings.

Composition by source: Table 4.7a presents the same basic transition information once again, but reverses the viewpoint of Table 4.6a. Instead of looking at rates of transition forward from one status to another, this table looks backward in time, decomposing the population of each status by where its incumbents lived the previous June. The "aged out" category is logically replaced by a "not yet born" category to represent infants who enter one of these programs during their first year. As with Tables 4.5 and 4.6a, this table is dominated by the stationary cases -- the "stayers" along the diagonal. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the children in each program group had been in the same living arrangement status during the previous June. This table also suggests that even though a small proportion of the children in these care relationships moved from one of the other categories within the year, the AFDC/Parent population is clearly the most significant "feeder" to the other three programs.

The dynamics of these changes are more easily viewed in Table 4.7b, which presents the same composition by previous status information, but only for those children -- the "movers" --who made a transition in the previous year. Looking across the first row, we see that 43.2 percent of the children who moved into AFDC/Relative and 50.3 percent of the children who moved into Kin/FC lived in an AFDC/Parent arrangement the previous June. In contrast, there is very little net movement observed between the informal and formal kinship groups themselves -- only 1.2 percent of AFDC/Relative children moved from Kin/FC and 4.6 percent of Kin/FC cases moved from AFDC/Relative.

Children who move into the informal kinship group come almost entirely from the AFDC/Parent (43 percent) and out-of-scope (47 percent) categories. This group has the smallest proportion of newborns (8 percent) and receives very few (less than 2 percent) of its new cases from the foster care groups. Over half the children who move into the formal kinship group (Kin/FC) come from the AFDC/Parent group. Another one-third are from the out-of-scope and newborn groups. In contrast to informal kinship, a substantial (though not large) proportion of the formal kinship cases come from either FC/Other (11 percent) or AFDC/Relative (5 percent). Clearly the children in formal kinship care arrangements are historically more connected to the public support system than children in informal kinship arrangements.

The main dynamic apparent in Tables 4.7a and 4.7b is the size of the impact that the AFDC/Parent population has on the composition of these other program categories. Because the population of children receiving grants through parents is so much larger than any other groups examined here, even relatively small proportional transitions from AFDC/Parent cases result in very substantial proportional flows of children into either AFDC/Relative or either foster care status. In the discussion of Table 4.6a we noted that the likelihood of an individual child making the transition from AFDC/Relative into formal kinship was twice as great as the likelihood of transition from AFDC/Parent into formal kinship. However, because the AFDC/Parent population is so large, the aggregate number of cases coming into Kin/FC from AFDC/Parent is larger, over ten times larger, than that coming from AFDC/Relative arrangements.

The apparent contradiction between lower likelihoods and higher net impact is fully explained by the relative sizes of the base populations, and the numbers presented here provide a direct way of visualizing these relations. One clear implication is that even very small shifts in the pattern of movement of children from the AFDC/Parent living arrangement category produces very large impacts on the flow of cases to the three smaller groups.

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