On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. Policy Context and Report Overview

09/01/2001

Extended family members have long played a role in caring for children when their parents were unavailable or unable to do soВ  a practice commonly referred to as "kinship care." In 2000, approximately 3 million children were living with neither of their parents; 2.2 million of these were living with relatives.(1)

But kinship care families appear to be a particularly vulnerable group. Kinship caregivers are older, more likely to be single, more likely to have less education and lower incomes, and more likely to report being in poor health than parent caregivers (U.S. DHHS, 2000a). Compared to children in parent care, kinship care children score lower on measures of cognitive, physical, and psycho-social well-being (Ehrle, Geen, and Clark, 2001).

Public support for kinship care families, if provided at all, has traditionally come from income assistance or child welfare agencies. Amendments to the 1950 Social Security Act offered relatives two ways to receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for children in their care. First, poor relative caretakers could apply for assistance for themselves and for the children just like any other needy family. Second, caregivers could, regardless of their income, receive payment for only the child or children in their care, a "child-only" grant. The 1950 amendments noted that this second scenario was permitted because relatives were not legally required to care for the child. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program which replaced AFDC in 1996, does not guarantee relative caregivers access to financial assistance, but all states except Wisconsin have continued this entitlement.

In contrast, child welfare agencies have only recently begun to support kinship care. When the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 was passed, forming the basis of federal foster care policy, it was very rare for a child's relative to act as a foster parent. Today, child welfare agencies increasingly consider kin as the first placement choice when foster care is needed and kin are available to provide a safe home. Kin meeting state licensing standards typically receive foster care payments when caring for children in state custody.(2)

Child welfare and TANF policy makers have been paying much greater attention to kinship care recently as it is a growing share of both the foster care and TANF caseloads. In addition, some policy makers have questioned whether government support of kinship care may provide an unintended incentive for parents to abandon their children or for kin to seek out child welfare involvement. In the past few years, many states and localities have begun to develop new strategies for meeting the needs of kin outside of their traditional foster care or TANF programs. This report highlights information collected about states' efforts to design such alternative programs for kin.