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December/January 2024Vol. 24, No. 10Study Finds That Kinship Care Supports Academic Performance

There are many benefits to kinship care placements for children and youth who cannot safely remain with their parents. Living with relatives or close family friends in kinship care can help minimize trauma, increase stability and safety, maintain family and community connections, and preserve ties to cultural traditions. A new study reinforces another important benefit of kinship care: it supports children's academic well-being.

A brief of the study, “Kinship Care Supports the Academic Performance of Children” by Tyreasa Washington and Brittany P. Mihalec-Adkins, summarizes the main findings. Researchers collected data on approximately 8,000 children in North Carolina in third through sixth grades who experienced either formal or informal kinship care placements between 2009 and 2013. An examination of these young people’s educational and child welfare data produced two main findings:

  • Among children in out-of-home care, those living in both formal and informal kinship care fared better academically than children in nonrelative foster care, particularly with respect to math scores.
  • Children in formal kinship care performed best among all children in any form of out-of-home care. The performance of these children was similar to that of children living with their birth or adoptive parents. 

These findings suggest that formal kinship care may be one of the only known interventions that eliminate academic deficits among children in out-of-home care, according to the brief’s authors. Because formal kin caregivers usually have more access to resources, services, and funding than informal kin caregivers, the authors suggest that more resources, not more oversight from the child welfare system, is the reason that formal kinship care supports academic performance.

In light of these findings, the authors suggest three recommendations for supporting the academic success of children in out-of-home care:

  • Kinship care should be considered a strategy for promoting academic well-being for children in out-of-home care.
  • Child welfare professionals should prioritize kinship care over other placement alternatives whenever possible.
  • Kinship care may be used to reduce the overrepresentation of children of color in the child welfare system.

The brief coincides with the release of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ new regulation that allows child welfare agencies to adopt simpler licensing or approval standards for kin foster family homes. The new rule provides improved financial support to kin caregivers by requiring states to provide kin caregivers the same level of financial assistance as traditionally licensed foster caregivers.

The study brief is available on the Child Trends website. More details on the research are available on the Society for Research in Child Development website.