Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. Factors Contributing to Increased Use of Public Kinship Care


States’ increasing use of kin as foster parents is largely due to three changes in their child welfare systems. First, the number of non-kin foster parents has not kept pace with the number of children requiring care. Between 1985 and 1990, the number of children in foster care increased by 47 percent, while the number of available foster families decreased by 27 percent (Spar, 1993). Experts have identified a variety of reasons for this decline, including an increasingly negative public image of foster care, more working women, and high rates of burnout among foster parents, who feel overburdened and underserved by child welfare agencies (Spar, 1993). Moreover, many foster parents have been unwilling to care for the growing number of young children who have been exposed prenatally to drugs or alcohol or who have other special needs (Johnson, 1994).

The second factor contributing to the increase in public kinship care has been a shift in the attitude of child welfare agencies toward more family-centered services. Advocates of kinship care argue that children fare better in their own families and that kin should be given priority when children require placement. Since children are more likely to be familiar with a kin caregiver, many experts suggest that these placements may be less traumatic and disruptive for children than placements with non-kin (Gleeson and Craig, 1994; Johnson, 1994; Zwas, 1993). In addition, experts argue that kinship care provides the best opportunity for a child to maintain a sense of family identity, self-esteem, social status, community ties, and continuity of family relationships (Dore and Kennedy, 1981; Laird, 1979; Pecora et al., 1992).

Table 2. Children in Public Kinship Care in 25 States, 1986–1990

Fiscal States and Illinois Year All States (%) All States Except California, New York and Illinois (%) 
986 18 12
987 22 13
988 25 14
989 28 17
990 31 18

Source: Kusserow, 1992.

Third, a number of court rulings have encouraged the use of kin as foster parents (see Chapter 2). In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that kin are entitled to receive the same Federal financial support for foster care as non-kin foster parents.11 In 1989, the ninth Circuit Court found that children have a constitutional right to associate with relatives and that States’ failure to use kin as foster parents denies them that right.12 In addition, a number of States have faced class-action lawsuits that resulted in settlements that increased the financial support and services offered to public kinship caregivers.

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