October 2022Vol. 23, No. 8Strengthening Kinship Care and Prioritizing Equitable Support for Kinship Caregivers
Written by the Capacity Building Center for States
When she was 9, Anntesha began living with her grandparents. Then, due to a lack of resources, she and her younger sister had to leave their grandparents’ home and enter the foster care system. Because of this experience as a child, Anntesha later stepped up as the relative caregiver for her own niece and nephews when they were removed from their home. According to Anntesha, “Once they were placed with me, I realized stepping into this new role required a lot of support and the process wasn’t easy. Most kinship caregivers say, ‘Yes,’ first and figure out the challenges as they go.”
The benefits of kinship care are clear.
When children and youth cannot safely remain at home with their parents, moving in with relatives or close family friends can minimize trauma and safeguard connections to their family, community, and cultural roots. Compared with children in foster care, those living with kin caregivers experience more stability with fewer disruptions; have better well-being, mental health, and behavioral health; feel more connected to siblings and community; and have higher rates of legal permanency (Eun et al., 2021). Children in kinship care have even better outcomes when their caregiver families get services and supports like kinship navigator programs for financial and legal assistance, housing, and health services (Generations United, 2021).
Prioritizing kinship care can help mitigate some of the challenges of an inequitable system by maintaining children’s relationships with not only their parents, siblings, and extended family but also within their community and culture. Preserving connections within historically disenfranchised communities sustains cultural traditions and history, gives children and youth a sense of belonging and cultural identity, and builds a broad network of support (Hopkins, 2020).
To make an unforeseen situation workable, kin caregivers need resources and supports tailored to their specific needs. Unlike traditional foster parents, they have no formal training for their new, unanticipated role. Most kin caregivers are unaware of the resources available to them to cushion some of the additional responsibilities and costs associated with caring for a child and are unprepared to negotiate the bureaucracy to access the supports and services that will set them up for success (Johnson, 2021).
What can child welfare agencies do?
To begin, agencies can involve people with lived experience in kinship care throughout a continuous quality improvement (CQI) process to understand, dig into, and address inequities in kinship programs. Use the CQI process to examine current kinship care practices and policies, locate gaps in support, and identify where to focus resources. Examine both formal and informal kinship care arrangements to develop a deeper understanding of the trends in out-of-home placement and barriers to permanency. To improve kinship care support, agencies can do the following (Generations United, 2021; Administration for Children and Families, 2022):
- Expand data collection to include children who were diverted from the foster care or child welfare system
- Collect and disaggregate racial and ethnic data and tribal affiliation
- Use an equity-assessment tool and process to review and revise policies with people from disenfranchised, underserved communities
- Collaborate with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and housing agencies, kinship support organizations, school systems, and aging networks to assess inequities among kinship family supports and services
- Assess how the collaborative can strengthen kin caregiver connections to resources, benefits, support groups, and peer support
- Facilitate coordination with legal representation for kin caregivers to navigate the court system when seeking guardianship or custody
- Include kin caregivers and young adults raised in kin care in assessing the current situation and in deciding on solutions
- Provide information on the foster parent licensing process to kin caregivers with children in foster care
- Increase kin caregiver awareness of available resources and support through kinship navigator hotline and resource websites
- Find out what resources and supports were most helpful to kin caregivers
- Hire people with lived experience in kinship care to provide services and supports to new kin caregivers and families as trainers, advocates, and navigators within kinship care programs
Anntesha’s niece and nephews were reunified with their father, and she began to advocate for families as a kinship navigator. According to Anntesha, “My hope for the system is to understand how valuable kinship caregivers are and to see the extra support that is needed. As caregivers, we want what’s best for the parents and children. We may need a bit of extra support, but ultimately when children cannot be with their parents, they should be placed with family.”
The following Capacity Building Center for States resources provide additional kinship care and racial equity information and family stories:
“Supporting Caregivers Through Kinship Navigator Programs” (Children's Bureau Express, Vol. 22, No. 8)
It’s All Relative: Supporting Kinship Care Discussion Guides and Video Series (Video and discussion guides)
"It's All Relative: Supporting Kinship Connections" (Recorded webinar and discussion guides)
Advancing Racial Equity in Child Welfare: Child Welfare Virtual Expo (CWVE) 2021 (Webpage with videos and discussion guide)
“Anntesha’s Story” [Video]
Administration for Children and Families. (2022). Equity in action: Prioritizing and advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities [ACF-IM-IOAS-22-01]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/policy-guidance/equity-action-prioritizing-and-advancing-racial-equity-and-support-underservedhttps://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ACF-Equity-Action-Plan-February-2022.pdf
Generations United. (2021). State of grandfamilies Report 2021: Reinforcing a strong foundation: Equitable supports for basic needs of grandfamilies. https://www.gu.org/app/uploads/2022/02/2021-Grandfamilies-Report_V14.pdf
Hopkins, M. (2020). Family preservation matters: Why kinship care for Black families, Native American families, and other families of color is critical to preserve culture and restore family bonds [Blog post]. Juvenile Law Center. https://jlc.org/news/family-preservation-matters-why-kinship-care-black-families-native-american-families-and-other
Johnson, R. (2021). Disrupt disparities: Kinship care in crisis. AARP, Asian American Federation, Hispanic Federation, NAACP New York State Conference, & New York Urban League. https://kincarecoalition.files.wordpress.com/2021/08/disrupt-disparities-kinship-care-in-crisis-3-21.pdf