Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. Services Provided to Public Kinship Caregivers and to Birth Parents

06/01/2000

Not only are public kinship caregivers less likely than non-kin foster parents to receive services, their needs are more often overlooked. Public kinship caregivers are referred for, offered, and actually receive fewer services for themselves and for the children in their care (Barth et al., 1994; Berrick et al., 1994; Chipungu and Everett, 1994; Chipungu et al., 1998; Cook and Ciarico, 1998). For example, one study found that caseworkers are less likely to offer kinship caregivers health screenings, psychological assessments, substance abuse treatment, education services, employment and training services, recreation services, or legal assistance (Cook and Ciarico, 1998). These caregivers also appear to be less likely to request or receive foster parent training, respite care services, or support groups (Chipungu et al., 1998). Finally, public kinship caregivers are less likely to request or receive educational or mental health assessments, individual or group counseling, or tutoring for the children in their care (Chipungu et al., 1998). Thus, it is not surprising that one study found that children in kinship care were significantly less likely than children in non-kin care to have seen a dentist, doctor, or mental health professional within the last year (Geen and Clark, 1999).

Experts have offered several explanations for these disparities. They may reflect variations in the service needs of public kinship and non-kin foster care families, or kinship caregivers may request fewer services because they are unaware of them or they prefer to rely on informal sources of support (Le Prohn and Pecora, 1994). Child welfare caseworkers may also treat public kinship caregivers differently from non-kin foster parents. Some studies show that kinship caregivers were less likely than non-kin foster parents to receive the services they request (Chipungu et al., 1998; Le Prohn and Pecora, 1994).

Overall, birth parents of children in public kinship care seem to be offered and to receive services similar to those given birth parents of children in non-kin foster care (Cook and Ciarico, 1998; Chipungu et al., 1998). Similarly, child welfare workers interviewed in one study reported that their case management practices with birth parents did not differ depending on whether their child was in kinship or non-kin foster care (Chipungu et al., 1998). It is not known whether the needs of birth parents of children in public kinship care differ from those of birth parents of children in non-kin foster care or whether these parents request different services.

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