On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. Implications for Other Public Agency Policy Makers

09/01/2001

Almost all public agencies could play an important role in serving kinship care families, given the wide range of documented service needs. The implications from this study on schools, aging offices, and the family courts are highlighted below.

  • The public schools.  As one of the few public agencies that come into contact with all school-aged children, schools can play an essential role in identifying kinship caregivers that may need assistance. As one grandparent said in a focus group meeting, "just stand outside one of our elementary schools at the end of the day and see how many children are being picked up by people with gray hair." Schools may want to target mentoring and tutoring services to kinship care children, since kinship caregivers may have difficulty helping related children with school assignments. In addition, many kin report having difficulty either enrolling children in schools or enrolling them in specialized classes when they did not have written documentation to prove they were a child's custodian. Schools may want to reconsider their enrollment policies or provide more technical assistance to kin in how to meet regulations. Schools may also want to consider allowing kin caregivers to leave related children in the schools they were in when they lived with their birth parents even if the kin does not live in the same school district.
  • Aging offices.  Kinship caregivers may be more likely to access services from an aging office than a TANF or child welfare agency, because they feel that the aging offices were set up specifically to meet their needs. As such, aging offices can play an important role in bringing kin together and identifying supports to meet caregivers' needs. Moreover, for the first time, recent reauthorization of the federal Older Americans Act provides states with funds to support older caregivers rearing related children.
  • The courts.  The courts are responsible for monitoring the progress of all children placed in kinship foster care. As such, the courts have the opportunity to assess whether child welfare agencies are adequately addressing the needs of this population. Additional training for family court judges specific to ASFA as well as on kinship foster care generally may be needed. Some program administrators questioned whether family court judges understand ASFA exceptions that relate to termination of parental rights and permanency outcomes for related children. Some also noted that judges threatened to remove children from kinship caregiver homes when kin were reluctant to adopt.

    In addition, courts may want to consider strategies to better inform kin of their options and rights and/or to assist them in accessing pro bono legal assistance. Courts are responsible for making custodial decisions, so they have contact with many kinship care families that have had no contact with child welfare agencies. In some states, custody hearings are held in probate court, in others in family court, and in others custody decisions may fall under the jurisdiction of more than one court. One of the major barriers that kin identified to obtaining permanent custody or adoption of related children were the costs associated with the legal and court fees as well as simple confusion over the legal process.