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


While part of the solution to meeting the needs of kin may be better information and outreach on available programs and supports, many policy makers have found that existing public agency services and programs are not appropriate or sufficient for kin. As a result, numerous states and localities have begun to develop kin-specific programs. In June 2000, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) noted the proliferation of such programs and, since little was known about them, contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct a study of alternative kinship care programs established outside of TANF and foster care. This report documents the findings from this study and describes the variety of alternative approaches states and localities are taking to address the needs of kinship caregivers.

There are many programs nationwide that serve kinship caregivers and children, but not all are alternatives to TANF or foster care. For the purposes of this study, "alternative" kinship care programs are those specifically designed to meet the needs of kinship care families and that serve, at least in part, families referred by child welfare and/or TANF agencies.

Identifying existing alternative kinship care programs required several strategies. First, knowledgeable individuals around the country were asked to identify alternative kinship care programs of which they were aware. Second, Cornell University's Child Abuse Prevention Network Listserve asked its members to identify programs. Third, kinship care experts and organizations that work with kin or with state and local TANF and child welfare agencies offered information. Fourth, a review of the agendas of recent conferences sponsored by children's organizations identified presentations by or about alternative kinship care programs. Finally, the Brookdale Foundation, which for the past few years has provided seed money to state and local agencies interested in expanding services for kinship care families, provided a list of programs they support.

Identified Alternative Kinship Care Programs.

In all, 167 programs serving kinship care families were identified, and researchers contacted 107 programs which were thought to fit the definition of alternative kinship care.(11) Identified programs were asked to provide brochures, authorizing legislation, and other publicly available information about current and planned activities. The information provided showed that 57 of these programs served families referred by either TANF or child welfare and could be considered alternative programs.(12) Of these 57, 34 are subsidized guardianship programs, programs that provide on-going financial support to kin who take permanent legal custody of a related child who has been abused or neglected. Such programs are alternative in that they provide an option only to kin that is different from traditional foster care or adoption assistance. Program administrators offered some basic information about all 57 alternative kinship programs. Researchers selected seven programs for more in depth study(13):

  • A Second Chance, Inc. (ASCI) in Pittsburgh, PA is the largest private non-profit kinship foster care agency in the United States with an ongoing caseload of over 700 children. ASCI serves primarily families that have been referred by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services after a child has been adjudicated as abused or neglected and placed with a relative caregiver. Following referral, ASCI is responsible for all child welfare services needed until children achieve permanency including ensuring that kinship caregivers complete all foster parent licensing requirements. A unique attribute of ASCI, and what makes their program "alternative," is that the agency recognizes that kinship care families need to be served differently than traditional foster families. A Second Chance, Inc. works with the entire "triad"  the birth parent, child, and kinship caregiver. ASCI looks at permanency planning from the outset through a kinship strength assessment and reunification staff work simultaneously with kinship care and birth families to resolve family issues that serve as impediments to reunification. Sixty percent of kinship care children return home within six months of placement.
  • Denver's Grandparents and Kinship Program, operating within the TANF division of the Department of Human Services, provides a supplemental child-only TANF payment and other supports to relatives caring for their grandchildren or other relative kin. Program participants receive the financial supplement in addition to their TANF child-only payment as well as case management and other supportive services. With the additional supplement, the TANF child-only payment becomes similar in amount to the foster care monthly payment. The program provides case management services, depending upon a participant's needs. Relative caregiver support groups are an integral part of the program. Relatives caring for children involved with child welfare (and receiving TANF child-only payments) receive the financial supplement through the program; however, case management services continue to be provided through the child welfare division.
  • Florida's statewide Relative Caregiver Program serves children being cared for by relatives who, without the caregivers, would otherwise be in foster care. The relative must have a juvenile court order placing the child in their home under protective supervision (in cases where reunification with birth parents is the goal), or under temporary custody cases (where the parents are unavailable, unable or unwilling to pursue reunification). The program has two primary components: the relative caregiver payment and case management services. Additionally, children are eligible for Medicaid and day care. Families in the program receive monthly financial payments from the TANF program and are monitored (at a minimum for six months) by the child welfare system. Currently, the financial payment is approximately 70 percent of the foster care rate. One of the major goals of the program is permanency for children, and long-term relative placement is a court disposition and a permanency option most of the families in this program choose. Families in the program continue to be eligible for the payment until the child is 18 years old. Relatives who assume legal guardianship of the children in their care also continue to be eligible for the relative caregiver payment.
  • The Kentucky Kinship Care Program, administered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Children and Families (an umbrella agency responsible for both child welfare and TANF), provides kin caring for children who have been abused or neglected an alternative to becoming licensed as a foster parent. Rather than the state taking custody of children and licensing kin as foster parents, in the Kinship Care Program, kin caregivers take temporary legal custody of adjudicated children and must agree to accept permanent legal custody of children if they cannot return to their parents. Kinship caregivers receive a payment of $300 per month per adjudicated child in their care (approximately 50 percent of the foster care rate) and this payment continues until the child is 18. Agency supervision under the Kinship Care program is less intensive than when children are in foster care  there is typically six months of caseworker supervision following placement. The kinship care program is entirely TANF funded with $8 million allocated for the program in 2000.
  • The Kentucky KinCare Project is a statewide network of 29 kinship care support groups that resulted from a unique partnership between the state Office of Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (part of the Kentucky Cabinet for Children and Families), the Office of Aging, and the Cooperative Extension Service. The Resource Centers are located in public schools throughout the state and host the support group meetings and provide ongoing operational support. The public schools assist in identifying and recruiting kinship caregivers for the support groups. A statewide steering committee provides day-to-day guidance as well as a long-term vision and advocacy for expanding supports to grandparent caregivers. Representatives from the Office of Aging and the Cooperative Extensive Service serve on the steering committee and were responsible for the development of the first grandparent support groups in the state.
  • The Kinship Support Network (KSN), is a comprehensive program designed to fill in the gaps in public social services to relative caregivers and the children they are raising. KSN is administered by the Edgewood Center for Children and Families, a private non-profit organization in San Francisco, California. KSN serves both families that are, and are not, actively involved with the county child welfare agency, the Department of Human Services (DHS). Approximately half of the referrals to KSN come from DHS with the remainder coming from other community agencies or self-referrals. KSN offers case management which includes monthly visits by community workers, as well as support services that include support groups, respite and recreation, mental health assessment and support, and advocacy. All KSN services are voluntary and there are no eligibility requirements. KSN is funded by DHS as well as through private resources.
  • Oklahoma does not have a specific alternative kinship care program, but has many ongoing initiatives that involve services to relative caregivers. The Aging Services Division of Oklahoma's Department of Human Services (DHS) has sponsored an annual conference on grandparents raising grandchildren each year since 1997. At the conference, representatives from various agencies provide information about the child welfare and welfare systems. The Aging Division raised foundation funding to support local support groups and has also published a grandparent handbook which provides information and key phone numbers for local resources. In addition, Aging Services provides money for respite care to families in which a grandparent, age 60 or older, is the primary caregiver of a child. Families who are income eligible receive up to a $400 voucher each quarter to purchase respite care services.

The seven selected programs illustrate different service delivery approaches. They also vary in size, geographic areas and demographic groups they serve, funding mechanisms, and administration. Summary information about all 57 alternative kinship care programs identified is included in Appendix A. Appendix B includes summary profiles of the seven programs selected for in-depth study.

Teams of two Urban Institute researchers conducted multi-day site visits with selected programs and conducted interviews with program administrators and supervisors, TANF and child welfare administrators, local advocacy organizations, and private service providers who work with kin. Semi-structured protocols were employed to collect information about programs' goals, services, structure, administration, financing, and the target client population. In addition, Urban Institute researchers conducted focus groups with alternative kinship care program workers, child welfare and TANF workers, and kinship caregivers. These focus groups yielded information on the needs and service delivery experiences of kin and how the alternative program interacted with TANF, child welfare, and other public and private agencies.


1.  Based on Urban Institute tabulations of March 2000 Current Population Survey.

2.  Caregivers of children in state custody who do not meet state licensing requirements typically do not receive foster care payments, but are eligible to receive TANF child-only payments. Three states only provide foster payments to kin if the children in their care are title IV-E eligible.

3.  Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) data. Data are provided based on two- or three-year averages, because the number of children in kin care in a single year's CPS sample is relatively small and provide unreliable estimates. In addition, because of the introduction of improved data collection and processing procedures, data before 1994 are not comparable to later years.

4.  The number of children in kinship care decreased from an average of 2.16 million to 2.14 million between 1995-1997 and 1998-2000 and the average prevalence decreased from 3.05 percent to 2.98 percent.

5.  In California, New Jersey, and Oregon, kin must care for a child eligible for federal reimbursement (under title IV-E) to receive a foster care payment.

6.  Basic rates vary by the age of the child. In addition, states often supplement these basic rates with allowances for clothes, shelter, school supplies, or other expenses.

7.  The Urban Institute's 1999 survey found that 8 states provided foster care payments to kin who were assessed based on different licensing standards. In January, 2000 HHS published a final rule implementing ASFA and noted that states could not claim federal reimbursement of foster care payments made to kin who were licensed based on different standards.

8.  However, we cannot determine how many of these kinship child-only recipients are kin foster parents who are not receiving foster care payments because they are not licensed.

9.  In addition to kinship care, there are several other reasons why a family may receive a child-only welfare payment. The head of the household may be 1) receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) instead of TANF, 2) ineligible for TANF due to their citizenship status, or 3) under sanction by the welfare office.

10.  Title IV-E eligible children are categorically eligible for Medicaid. States have the option of whether to provide Medicaid to non-IV-E eligible children.

11.  Since a comprehensive survey was not conducted, it is likely that there are alternative kinship care programs that were not identified. In addition, since efforts to identify programs in June/July 2000, some new alternative programs have been implemented.

12.  Some of these programs receive relatively few referrals from TANF or child welfare while others receive most if not all referrals from these sources. It is possible that some of the programs not considered alternative also receive some referrals from TANF or child welfare, but were inadvertently left out because programs materials or program officials did not note these referrals.

13.  Although subsidized guardianship programs were the most common alternative kinship care program identified, we did not include any of these programs for in depth study since several of these programs are being implemented under title IV-E waivers and are being closely monitored.