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September 2022Vol. 23, No. 7Kinship Navigation Facilitates Permanency and Equity for Youth in Child Welfare

Although kinship care is regarded as the best placement for children and youth who must be removed from their families and enter out-of-home care, only 34 percent of children in foster care were placed in a relative foster family home in 2020 according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. A recent article in Children and Youth Services Review, “Kinship Navigation: Facilitating Permanency and Equity for Youth in Child Welfare,” examines how a kinship navigator program helped mitigate the challenges associated with kinship care by providing kin caregivers with information, education, referrals, and other supports to allow them to maximize their ability to provide safety, stability, and permanency for the children and youth placed with them.

The article focuses on the kinship navigator program at A Second Chance, Inc. (ASCI) in Allegheny County, PA. ASCI’s kinship navigators, who work in the office of the county’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, shadow caseworkers and support cases beginning at children’s removal from their homes. This allows the kinship navigators to begin their family-finding efforts immediately, help relatives prepare their homes for kinship care, link relatives to essential information and resources, and prepare them for foster parent certification and licensing. ASCI’s model places racial and cultural competencies at the forefront by acknowledging the existence of racial inequities and recognizing the importance of kinship care to maintaining youth’s racial and cultural identities.

The study of ASCI’s kinship navigator program included 471 youth who were served by the program and a comparison group of 637 youth who were served by other agencies or programs in Allegheny County. It examined the types of services received, the costs associated with each service, where and when the services were provided, and when and how the case was closed.

More than three-quarters of both the kinship navigator and comparison groups reunited with their families, but children receiving kinship navigator services who did not reunify had different exit patterns than those in the comparison group who did not reunify. Children who received kinship navigator services were significantly more likely to achieve permanent legal custodianship (also known as legal guardianship) (13 percent) than children in the comparison group (4 percent). Children in the comparison group were much more likely to exit to adoption (12 percent) than children who received kinship navigator services (7 percent). Additionally, study data suggest that ASCI’s kinship navigator program had more racially equitable outcomes than those in the comparison group. Among children who were not reunified, there was no significant difference in attaining permanency between White children (21 percent) and African American children (19 percent) who received kinship navigator services, but there was a significant difference in the comparison group (20 percent of White children achieved permanency compared with 12 percent of African American children).    

The article highlights the benefits of permanent legal custodianship for kin caregivers. They are able to assume all legal responsibilities and authority for the child without necessitating the termination of parental rights and children being permanently separated from their parents. Furthermore, in Pennsylvania and other states, kin caregivers may receive a subsidy similar to that of nonrelative foster caregivers. The study also suggests that kinship navigator programs may be an approach to improve permanency and decrease disparities in outcomes for African American children.

To learn more about ASCI’s program and the effectiveness of kinship navigators, read the article, Kinship Navigation: Facilitating Permanency and Equity for Youth in Child Welfare.”