On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. Impetus for Program Development

09/01/2001

Some programs, such as the Kinship Support Network in San Francisco, focus on providing a wide array of community-based services for kin and the children in their care.

Researchers documented the events and individuals critical to the development of the programs. While each alternative kinship care program has a unique history, we observed a number of common themes:

  • Identification of need.  Public agency support of alternative kinship care programs was often preceded by grass-roots efforts to articulate the needs of relative caregivers. In the sites we visited, the needs of kinship caregivers were often first articulated by private and/or faith-based organizations or by the public outcry of the kin themselves. Examples are highlighted below.

    In Denver, grandparent support groups were first organized by members of a local church. When the Department of Human Services (DHS) recognized the need for such support groups, they organized the groups through a staff member located at a local food stamp office. Currently, DHS funds Catholic Charities to facilitate a growing number of relative support groups across the city. Local officials in Denver noted that grassroots organizing by grandparent caregivers, including a protest in front of the DHS office, was influential in moving beyond support groups to the supplemental TANF financial assistance provided by the alternative program>.

    In Florida, as part of an effort to improve family court procedures, relatives caring for children in state custody voiced their concerns about the required inspections and paperwork for foster care licensing. They also articulated their need for greater financial assistance than offered by TANF.

    Officials in Kentucky credit the Homemakers clubs, which have about 30,000 members, for raising the issue of grandparents raising grandchildren  which led to the development of Kentucky's support group program.

    Both public and private agency officials were surprised by the size of the kinship care population and the extent of their needs.

    Both public and private agency officials were surprised by the size of the kinship care population and the extent of their needs. For example, in Kentucky, officials noted a seminar on grandparents caring for grandchildren that was sponsored by the Court Attorney's office and held in a Baptist church. Organizers prepared for 25 people but more than 300 attended.

  • Public agency involvement.  While child welfare agencies, and to a lesser extent TANF agencies, appear to be the driving force behind the development of alternative kinship care programs, a variety of other public agencies took a role in creating the alternative programs we visited. For example, the Aging Office in Oklahoma's Department of Human Services has taken the lead in its Grandparent Initiative, and Kentucky's support group program resulted from efforts by the Cooperative Extension Service, the Aging Office, and the public schools. The administrative structure of alternative kinship care programs is discussed in more detail below.
  • Role of elected officials.  Elected officials took a significant role in the development of several of the visited programs. In Denver, a city council member was a leading supporter of the alternative program and was influential in getting support from TANF. Florida's alternative kinship care program is codified in statute and the state legislature has been active in the design and oversight of the program. In California, the state legislature set aside $750,000 from the state General Fund to establish family support programs, modeled after the Kinship Support Network in San Francisco, for relatives caring for abused and neglected children.
  • Outside influences.  Often a unique external factor catalyzed the creation of the alternative programs, such as the availability of funding or a legal action. For example, foundation funds for kinship care were influential in both Oklahoma's and Kentucky support group programs, and the availability of TANF surplus funds helped spur the programs in Denver and Florida, and Kentucky's child welfare alternative program. In Pittsburgh, following a lawsuit alleging that kinship care families were not given the same options as traditional foster care families, the county child welfare agency signed a consent decree requiring the county to improve services to kinship care families. The county relies on A Second Chance to serve kinship care families and fulfill the requirements of the consent decree.