The alternative programs visited rely on referrals and outreach to reach relative caregivers and provide their service offerings. Child welfare agencies and, to a lesser degree, TANF agencies are the primary referral sources for the alternative kinship care programs visited. Many programs also receive referrals from other community agencies or from caregivers themselves. Some programs conduct outreach efforts in order to reach a broader group of families.
- Child welfare and TANF referrals. Of the 23 programs identified not providing subsidized guardianship, 22 receive at least some referrals from the child welfare system, and 9 receive referrals from the TANF program. Not surprisingly, programs administered and staffed by either a public or private child welfare agency are most likely to receive referrals from the child welfare system. A Second Chance in Pittsburgh consists entirely of child welfare-referred families. In Kentucky's child welfare alternative program and in Florida's Relative Caregiver program, some families are referred by TANF, though only in cases where the child has been adjudicated as abused or neglected. Additionally, some families with closed child welfare cases self-refer to the programs.
As part of the initial program start-up and implementation in Florida and Kentucky, it was necessary to identify and recruit kinship families who would be eligible for the new programs. This was handled by training child welfare workers on the new programs' eligibility requirements, followed by identifying and contacting those families which appeared eligible.
Denver's program is the only TANF-administered alternative kinship care program visited and receives the bulk of its referrals from TANF workers. Child welfare workers receive training about TANF's grandparent program, but the program is still in its infancy and interaction with the child welfare division has yet to be formalized. In San Francisco, the Kinship Support Network receives about half of its referrals from child welfare. Two child welfare workers are on-site at the Edgewood center enabling easier referrals and coordination.
- Role of courts. The courts play a significant role in referring families to the alternative programs developed largely by child welfare agencies. In Pittsburgh, judges often require A Second Chance to accept kin as foster parents who could not be certified because of past criminal charges or other disqualifying factors. As a result, the county cannot receive state or federal reimbursement on behalf of these placements and has to incur all associated placement costs. In addition, judges are sometimes willing to accept pleas from private kinship caregivers who claim that they are caring for children due to abuse and neglect, even though the child welfare agency was not involved in the placement.
In two states visited, judicial practices affect how kin are served by alternative programs. In Kentucky's child welfare alternative program, relatives are supposed to assume temporary custody of children placed with them, so the children receive less supervision than children who are in state custody. However, some judges have allowed kin to participate in the kinship program, but have ordered the child welfare agency to assume custody. In some parts of Florida, judges are reluctant to adjudicate children placed with kin, instead allowing the kin to care for a child "voluntarily." These caregivers are unable to obtain the relative caregiver payment.
- Community and self referrals. In addition to TANF, child welfare and the courts, alternative programs rely on other means to identify potential participants. Some programs utilize schools for outreach efforts while other programs rely on grandparent support groups and word-of-mouth. Of the 23 programs identified not providing subsidized guardianship, 16 receive referrals from community agencies and 7 receive self-referrals.
Kentucky's support group program uses schools to identify children whose legal guardians are relatives rather than parents. Resource coordinators send out notices of support group meetings and provide information at school open houses to inform relative caregivers of support groups. Some advertise the support group program through radio, television, newspapers and community calendars. A support group in Oklahoma also distributed informational brochures to schools and other organizations as a form of outreach.
In San Francisco, the Kinship Support Network heavily relies on word of mouth for referrals in addition to referrals from the child welfare agency. The Kinship Support Network is well established and known in the community and its outreach activities include interaction with the schools, churches, community meetings, providing flyers to the county Department of Human Services, and advertising meetings in community newspapers.
Initially, Denver's program conducted presentations at churches, District and City Attorneys' Offices, and the schools. The program's manager also made local radio and TV appearances. Denver's popular and politically active grandparent support groups are also a source of referrals. At local family resource centers, advocates who receive training on the grandparent program are a source of community referrals.