Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. Responding to a Congressional Directive


In passing the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA, P.L. 105-89), the Congress recognized the growing practice of using relatives as licensed foster parents in many States and communities in the United States. As a step toward building a better understanding upon which to base future policy and legislative decisions, the Congress requested the development of this report on policy and practice regarding kinship foster care. The Congress specifically 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;
  • access birth parents have to their children while in kinship care; and
  • permanency plans for children in kinship care.

The focus of this report is on kinship care within the foster care system; that is, relatives who care for children under the supervision of the State child welfare agency. If the care of these children is paid in part under the title IV-E (of the Social Security Act) foster care program, these relatives must be licensed as foster parents, and provided with financial support for the children in their care commensurate with traditional, non-kin foster parents. Relative foster care placements paid for without federal foster care funding may or may not be held to State licensing standards and may receive less financial support than under title IV-E. In many cases federal funds under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and its predecessors, including Emergency Assistance have been used to support kinship care for children who are not title IV-E eligible. In addition, the many children and families involved in relative care outside the child welfare system are not the focus of this report.

For the purposes of this report, all kinship care arrangements that occur without child welfare involvement are referred to as “private” and those kinship arrangements that occur with child welfare involvement are termed “public.” “Public” arrangements may be either foster care under the State’s supervision, or situations in which the child welfare agency may have been involved in brokering the arrangement, but the child is never formally taken into State custody. Traditional foster care arrangements are referred to in this report as “non-kin” foster care. Except as specifically indicated, kinship foster care refers both to title IV-E eligible children and children in foster care with a relative who are ineligible for federal foster care assistance.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) establish an Advisory Panel on Kinship Care and prepare a report to the Congress on this subject. The Advisory Panel was to review a draft of the report and to provide input to the Secretary as she developed recommendations to include in the report to Congress. In appointing an Advisory Panel on Kinship Care, the Secretary selected individuals from diverse disciplines and backgrounds with a wide variety of perspectives on these issues. The Secretary believed that only such a group could ensure that a full range of issues and options were discussed and that her recommendations could be informed by the variety of important points of view on these issues. The Advisory Panel met twice, once in October, 1998 to review a draft background report to Congress, and a second time in January, 1999 to discuss those policy issues upon which the panel believed federal-level recommendations or discussion would be worthwhile.

This report has two parts. This section of the report presents the Department’s conclusions and recommendations and has been prepared by HHS staff based on the Advisory Panel’s input, on internal deliberation, and on available research and data. The research review that accompanies the Secretary’s Report presents the existing research literature on kinship care, including what is known about the current practices in the use of relatives as foster parents. Between the two sections, this document responds as much as possible to the congressional request for specific information. The research review was prepared by staff at the Urban Institute under contract to HHS.

A full roster of the Advisory Panel appears as Appendix D. The text of the ASFA provision requesting this report appears as Appendix A.

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