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June 2015Vol. 16, No. 5Site Visit: New Jersey Kinship Connections Program

In fiscal year 2011, the Children's Bureau awarded a Family Connection Grant to the Children's Home Society of New Jersey (CHSofNJ) for a 3-year project to use family group decision-making (FGDM) to build and/or enhance protective factors for kinship families that are not actively involved in the child welfare system but are caring for relative children and youth at risk of entering or reentering the State's care. Project staff recognized that kinship families, many of whom live on low and/or fixed incomes, often experience challenges, including the inability to meet the basic needs of the children in their care, assist school-age children with homework, and manage difficult adolescent behavior. However, unlike foster families served by the child welfare system, kinship caregivers have access to and receive fewer support services. So, project staff posited, if kinship caregivers are provided with the necessary services and supports they need, then children can be safely maintained in their homes and families will experience less stress, thereby reducing the likelihood of placement disruption and child welfare involvement.

The CHSofNJ's Kinship Connections Program (KCP) of Mercer County addresses the daily needs of grandparents and other family members voluntarily raising their kin children by providing support services, family activities, and referrals to resources and services in the community. Relative caregivers are also given the opportunity to participate in Family Success Conferences (FGDM meetings) with KCP staff to informally discuss the issues and needs of the family. CHSofNJ also maintains other interrelated grandparent/kinship caregivers programs, including the following:

  • GrandFamily Success Center—a community-based center for kinship caregivers that provides information, support in group settings and one-on-one, referrals, and services aimed at supporting the physical and behavioral health of caregivers and children
  • Kinship Navigator program—helps kinship caregivers explore government assistance programs, benefits, and eligibility; Kinship Navigator benefits and eligibility; and guides families through the Kinship Legal Guardianship process

The KCP, the highlight of the project and subsequent site visit and resulting report, includes three service phases, and families are free to choose whether they participate in each graduated phase or participate in only Phase 1 or 2. They include:

  • Phase 1—Recruitment/Engagement: Caregivers and children are invited to visit the GrandFamily Success Center; participate in support groups, educational activities, programs, and events; receive information and referral to a variety of services, including those related to parent education, housing, employment, mental health and counseling, Early Head Start, respite care, youth mentoring, tutoring, life skills training, Kinship Legal Guardianship assistance, and more; and discuss the KCP project with staff and whether or not the caregiver wishes to proceed to Phase 2.
  • Phase 2—Trust Building/Service Provision: A KCP Family Service Worker is assigned to each kinship family to serve as case manager and FGDM meeting facilitator. At the beginning and end of this phase, families are asked to complete several assessments to determine their needs, the results of which, in conjunction with other information and interviews, informs the Family Service Plan. The plan, developed by the KCP Family Service Worker and caregiver, includes a list of goals that KCP staff will help the family achieve.
  • Phase 3—Family Success Conferencing (FGDM): If, after discussion about FGDM, the caregiver wishes to proceed with a Family Success Conference, the KCP Family Service Worker will work with the caregiver to identify and invite family, friends, and other supports and identify the issues that should be addressed in the meeting. At a location selected by the family, the meeting begins with introductions and a facilitator-led general discussion about the meeting and its purpose and agenda. This is followed by information sharing between staff and family of the issues and concerns, after which the KCP staffer leaves the meeting. During the family private time, a plan is developed, which includes goals and action items. The KCP Family Service Worker returns to the meeting to discuss and finalize the plan and, once the meeting is over, he or she monitors the plan's progress and assists the family in reaching goals.

To determine project outcomes, data from assessments administered at the beginning of Phase 2 and at case closure were used to measure the results of project activities and services to participating families. Comparison data from the State child welfare agency was also analyzed to determine if project participants had child welfare involvement in the months following case closure. At the completion of the program, client satisfaction surveys and follow-up phone interviews were also conducted with program participant.

Pretest and posttest data and surveys completed by KCP facilitators and program participants show:1

  • Families who participated in Phase 2 experienced improvements, showed an increase in family functioning and a decrease in parent stressors, but improvements in all measured areas increased more for families who also participated in Phase 3.
  • Families who completed Phase 3 were able to address 70 percent of Family Service Plan goals; this percentage decreased for families not participating in Phase 3.
  • Family Success Conferences were well received, closely followed the FGDM model, and successfully focused the kinship family on the needs of caregivers and children.
  • Program participants were able to list the best things about Family Success Conferences as well as areas that could be improved upon.
  • Overall, caregivers were very satisfied with the KCP program, felt that the project and Family Success Conferences were effective at addressing and resolving family issues, and believe that other families would benefit from KCP services.

For more information on this project, contact Dolores Bryant at The full site visit report for this project will soon be available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website at

The Children's Home Society of New Jersey Kinship Connections Program project is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CF0030). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from site visits made on behalf of the Children's Bureau.

1 This is based on the results/data available in July 2014 when the site visit was conducted.