On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. Foster Care

09/01/2001

Since the federal government began funding foster care through the child welfare system, it has carefully regulated states' foster care practices, imposing standards and procedural safeguards and defining the types of children for which states may claim federal reimbursement. Federal child welfare policies, however, have remained fairly silent on states' treatment of kin foster parents. As a result, some states treat kin foster parents like non-kin foster parents, while some treat the two groups differently.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, as more children in need of foster care entered the child welfare system, states began to consider kin a viable placement option. Around the same time, Congress passed two laws that promoted states' use of kin as foster parents. First, through the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, federal policy stated that in Native American placements, a child should be "within reasonable proximity to his or her home . . ." and that states should aim to place the child with "a member of the Indian child's extended family. . . ." Second, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 mandated that a state's foster care placement should be the "least restrictive, most family-like setting available located in close proximity to the parent's home, consistent with the best interests and special needs of the child." Many states interpreted this act as an implicit preference for the use of kin as foster caregivers, and several states began to enact laws that explicitly preferred kin.

More recently, the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) have articulated federal support of kinship foster care. ASFA indicates that "a fit and willing relative" can provide a "planned permanent living arrangement" and that termination of parental rights does not have to occur within the allotted time frame if, "at the option of the state, the child is being cared for by a relative." Although PRWORA is known as the legislation that reshaped the nation's cash assistance landscape, it also requires states to "consider giving preference to an adult relative over a non-related caregiver when determining a placement for a child, provided that the relative caregiver meets all relevant state child protection standards."

Given the limited federal guidance, state kinship care policies vary significantly in the ways in which kinship caregivers are assessed and supported.

Given the limited federal guidance, state kinship care policies vary significantly in the ways in which kinship caregivers are assessed and supported (Leos-Urbel et al., 2000). In 1999, 10 states required kin to meet the same foster care licensing standards as non-kin. In the remaining 41 states, kin could choose to be assessed by a different standard, which often resulted in a smaller payment (TANF child-only or kin-specific payment). Sixteen states applied non-kin foster care licensing standards to kin but waived or modified one or more of the standards that would not be waived for non-kin foster parents. Thirty-two states offered a separate assessment process for kin (which may be called licensing, approval, or certification). Most often this process was less stringent than the non-kin foster care licensing standards.

In addition to assessing kin who care for children in state custody, 39 states reported that in some instances child welfare workers helped place children with kin without seeking state custody. In such cases, a family may be brought to the attention of the child welfare agency and the caseworker may recommend that the birth parent voluntarily place the child with a relative.

For kin caring for children in state custody, the type of payment they receive is directly linked to their assessment process. Generally, if kin go through the same licensing process as traditional foster parents, they receive foster payments.(5) Foster care payment rates vary from $212 to $708 a month for basic care (CWLA, 2001).(6) Kin who are assessed by different standards generally are not eligible to receive foster care payments, but may receive TANF child-only payments.(7) There are no data on the number of kinship caregivers who are licensed foster parents and receive foster care payments. Only 15 states were able to estimate the percentage of kin receiving foster care payments when asked in a 1999 Urban Institute survey. Among these, 12 states noted that less than half of all kin receive foster care payments, with 5 states estimating that fewer than 1 in 10 receive foster care payments (Leos-Urbel et al., 2000).

States' policies for kinship foster care are still evolving. Between 1997 and 1999, 16 states altered the way they either pay or assess kinship foster caregivers

States' policies for kinship foster care are still evolving. Between 1997 and 1999, 16 states altered the way they either pay or assess kinship foster caregivers. In addition, recent federal guidance on the licensing of kin foster parents will require at least 18 states to alter their policies if they want to seek federal reimbursement for foster care payments paid to kin (Leos-Urbel et al., 2000).