Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. Introduction


Traditionally, when child welfare agencies found it necessary to remove children from their parents’ homes due to abuse or neglect, they placed them in the homes of foster parents who had no prior relationship to the children or the children's family. Over the last decade, however, these agencies have increasingly relied on kin—that is, persons related to or having some prior relationship with the children—to act as foster parents. This practice is commonly referred to as kinship foster care. States’ use of kinship foster care has increased rapidly, but State and Federal policies have not always kept pace. Very little information is available on how well such care meets the basic goals of the child welfare system: to ensure a child's safety, promote permanency, and enhance well-being.

Recognizing the need for more information on the policy implications of using kin as foster parents, Congress directed the Department of Health and Human Services, in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) (P.L. 105-89), to “convene [an] advisory panel . . . and prepare and submit to the advisory panel an initial report on the extent to which children in foster care are placed in the care of a relative” (for the full text of the relevant section, see Appendix A). Specifically, Congress requested information on:

  • the extent to which children in foster care are placed with relatives,
  • the costs and sources of funds for kinship care,
  • State policies regarding kinship care,
  • characteristics of kinship care providers and their households,
  • conditions under which children enter kinship care,
  • services provided to kinship caregivers and to birth parents,
  • birth parents’ access to their children in kinship care, and
  • permanency plans for children in kinship care.

In October 1998, the Kinship Care Advisory Panel met to discuss an initial draft of this research review. A second draft, which incorporated comments made during the October meeting, as well as written comments submitted by panel members after the meeting, was provided to the Advisory Panel for comment following its January 1999 meeting.

This Report to Congress on Kinship Foster Care summarizes everything that is currently known about the use of kin as foster parents. Moreover, the report expands upon the congressional request in two significant ways. First, it provides information on the rearing of children by extended family members outside the child welfare system (commonly referred to as informal kinship care), because policies developed for formal kinship care may affect informal kinship care as well. Second, to provide a richer context for understanding both kinds of kinship care, the report compares the policies governing kinship care and traditional foster care and describes the characteristics and experiences of families in each group.

It is important to note that while there is a growing body of research on kinship foster care, data are still severely limited. (Appendix B includes all State kinship care data 1 currently available.) Much of the information presented in this report is based on small-scale studies whose findings may not necessarily apply to the entire kinship population or even to other states or localities. Therefore, while the report summarizes the findings of recent studies, readers should be cautious in interpreting those findings.

Chapter 1 discusses the role of extended families in helping to rear children, with or without the involvement of child welfare agencies.In addition, it documents trends in the prevalence of kinship care and identifies possible reasons why States have increased the use of kin as foster parents. At the same time, it highlights the benefits attributed to, and the concerns raised about, kinship foster care.

Chapter 2 traces the development of kinship care policies at the Federal and State levels and their implications for caregivers. Chapter 3 describes the characteristics of kinship care providers and children, including demographics, income and education, reason for becoming involved in the child welfare system, and measures of health status and social well-being. Chapter 4 documents the experiences of children in kinship foster care during and after their placement. Finally, Chapter 5 summarizes the findings from the previous chapters, identifies questions that remain unanswered, and identifies potential sources of kinship care information.

The information in this report was compiled from the following:

  • a search of child welfare databases, including the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect and several social science journal databases;
  • contact with national child welfare research and information organizations, including the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), the American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children, the General Accounting Office (GAO), and Generations United;
  • contact with individual researchers who have focused on kinship care; and
  • a review of existing bibliographies on kinship care.

Appendix C provides a bibliography of all kinship care–related material used in the development of this report.

In addition, this report incorporates comments made on earlier drafts by members of the Kinship Care Advisory Panel, as well as comments by members during Advisory Panel meetings in October 1998 and January 1999. Appendix D includes a list of Advisory Panel members.


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