Informal and Formal Kinship Care. Section IV. Formal and Informal Kinship Care Dynamics in Illinois


Limitations of the available data sources have severely hindered our capacity to describe and analyze the characteristics of children living in kinship care settings. As seen in Section I, large national samples such as that drawn for the Current Population Survey do provide detailed characteristics for individual children living in kinship arrangements. However, because kinship living rarely occurs in the general population, the resulting sample sizes for children in this category do not encourage detailed comparison much beyond univariate description at the national level. Although data from the 1990 decennial census are built on a much broader sampling base, the public-access tabulations produced from the census provide minimal detail. They classify the full range of child living arrangements only by two wide age categories, children 0-5 and 6-17 years of age.(16) Census data can be extracted for many different geographic places, and analyzed in the context of other characteristics associated with those places, but such ecological inference poses its own limitations and potential pitfalls.

As we have seen in the previous section, the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive provides some individual-level information on the children living in formal kinship and non-kinship foster care settings in four states. This information enabled us to separate the formal kinship foster care component from the larger "relative care" category of the census in four states, and to separate all non-relative foster care from the broader "unrelated child" category of the census. But, in order to consider the differences between children living in formal and informal kinship arrangements, it is also necessary to obtain information of a similar quality describing the population of children living in informal kinship care. Such data has not been located from existing sources.

In lieu of a comprehensive data source, we take an initial step towards the formal-informal comparison here by introducing information drawn from one special sub-population of children in Illinois, namely those who recently received public services in the form of AFDC grants or foster care. Over one-quarter of all children living in the care of relatives in Illinois in 1990 received AFDC grants paid to the kinship care household, and over one-eighth of the relative care children in the state were in formal kinship foster care. Child recipients of AFDC and foster children are clearly not representative of the kinship care population as a whole. But this group contains a substantial proportion of Illinois's children in kinship care settings and it can easily be construed as a most important segment of the kinship care population from the vantage point of informing public policy.

The primary reason for choosing this population for study is simply that data describing it is available. Individual case records for AFDC children living with kinship caregivers (parent absent) is available from the Child Multiservice Database at Chapin Hall. Facing an extreme paucity of available information in this area, the capacity to draw comparisons at all is a significant improvement.

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