Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. Unanswered Questions

06/01/2000

More research is needed to determine why the differences between public kinship and non-kin foster care exist. Key questions that future studies may want to address include:

  • How do caseworkers implement State kinship care policies? What factors do child welfare workers consider in deciding whether to place a child in kinship care? How and when do caseworkers follow State policies for giving preference to kin over other potential foster parents? Do caseworkers actively seek out kin or do they give preference to those who come forward when a child's placement is imminent? What input, if any, do biological parents and children have in selecting the kin with whom a child will be placed? How do caseworkers choose among kin when several are willing and able to be foster parents? Under what circumstances do welfare workers encourage kin to "voluntarily" take a child without putting the child into State custody? Do caseworkers encourage kin to become licensed foster parents? Do caseworkers inform kin of the availability of foster care payments and what they need to do to become eligible for these payments?
  • Why are the characteristics of children in public kinship care and their caregivers different from those in non-kin foster care? To what extent do differences result from factors outside the child welfare system (such as the availability and willingness of kin to act as foster parents) or within the system (such as State recruitment efforts and licensing policies, caseworkers' decision making about which children or types of cases are appropriate for kinship care)?
  • Why do children in public kinship care and their caregivers receive fewer services and less agency supervision than those involved in non-kin foster care? To what extent are differences in service delivery and agency supervision the result of differences in need, State policies, caseworker practices (for example, informing foster parents of available services), foster parents' attributes and attitudes (for example, their ability to articulate needs and their willingness to accept services), or the personal interaction between caseworkers and foster parents?
  • What are the benefits and potential drawbacks of existing kinship care practices? How do differences in State policies and practices related to kinship care affect children's safety, specifically, differences in licensing and approval practices, differences in agency supervision, and frequency of unsupervised visits between children and birth parents?
  • Taking into account the differences in the types of children placed with kin and non-kin foster parents, is kinship care more or less expensive than non-kin foster care? How many kinship care families qualify for and receive foster payments? What other types of financial assistance do kin receive in different amounts or frequency than non-kin foster parents? How long are children in kinship care supported financially compared to children in non-kin foster care? What are the costs of services provided to public kinship and non-kin foster care families?
  • Does kinship care result in better outcomes for children than non-kin foster care? To date, it is unclear whether kinship care, in and of itself, improves the health and well-being of children. While children in public kinship care rank generally higher on indicators of social well-being and health status, it is uncertain whether these measures reflect the kind of foster care or the children's status before being placed. Long-term analysis is needed to compare outcomes for children in kin and non-kin care. Finally, future research must pay special attention to how State policies and practices may affect the health and well-being of children in kinship care.

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