Together, Federal and State policies create a maze of varying kinship care definitions, policies, and practices.
- Federal policies. Kinship care developed in two Federal policy arenas—the income assistance programs available under AFDC (now TANF) and the child welfare programs. Consequently, two distinct ways of treating kin evolved. Under AFDC, kin were used to support children in need of care and were financially compensated in this role. Under Federal child welfare policies, kin were initially ignored as potential foster parents. Starting with the Indian Child Welfare and Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Acts, the Federal Government acknowledged the role that extended family members could play in caring for children requiring placement outside the home. However, Federal child welfare policies have largely remained silent on when and how States can and should treat kin differently from unrelated foster parents. Thus, States have generally served kin caregivers in a system that was developed with non-kin foster parents in mind. Recent Federal legislation, including 1994 amendments to the Social Security Act, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), could have a significant impact on both public and private kinship families. Under the 1994 Social Security amendments and ASFA, States can apply for waivers of title IV-E regulations to develop special programs and test strategies for more effectively addressing the special circumstances of kinship care families. Under PRWORA, the entitlement to income assistance has ended, and kinship families may feel the effects of time limits and work requirements. Finally, ASFA recognized kinship care as an appropriate permanent placement option and allows States to waive certain provisions governing the timing of termination of parental rights when a child is being cared for by a relative. In addition, the final rules for implementing ASFA include provisions that may affect States’ kinship practices and their ability to obtain Federal reimbursement for children placed in kinship care.
- State child welfare policies. As States began to use kin as foster parents, they developed varying policies for how to treat them. As a result, a continuum of kinship care arrangements has emerged—with kin who are involved with the child welfare system being defined, licensed, supervised, and paid differently than non-kin caregivers in most cases. Specifically, 19 States have a broad definition of kin that includes godparents, neighbors, or persons who have a bond with the child. Almost all States give preference to kin over non-kin in deciding where to place a foster child. In addition, 41 States waive standards or have less stringent requirements for kin who serve as foster parents, and 22 pay them at the foster care rate. Finally, most State policies indicate that kinship care of children in State custody is supervised with the same rigor as non-kin foster care