A Family First Q & A: Apply for Federal Kinship Funds by July 20

Posted June 21, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

State agencies can apply for federal kinship navigator funds by July 20, 2018.

Do you have or wish to develop a kinship navigator program?

The federal Administration for Children and Families is accepting applications from all states for the first of two funding opportunities for state child welfare agencies to strengthen and evaluate existing kinship navigator programs or develop new ones. To apply, child welfare agencies must file simple, streamlined applications with the federal government quickly — by July 20, 2018. Learn more about submitting an application.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is sharing this Q & A to provide data and background so more jurisdictions are prepared to benefit from this chance to help children thrive in kin families.

“The Casey Foundation is excited about this growing commitment to kinship care, beginning with the historic enactment of the Family First Prevention Services Act in February and reinforced with kinship navigation funds that were included in the 2018 federal budget,” says Rob Geen, director of policy reform and advocacy at the Foundation.

“Expanding kinship care has been a key Casey priority for one simple reason,” says Tracey Feild, director of the Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group. “Kinship care is better for kids. Every kid needs a family — and when they can’t be with their parents, kids are often better off when they live with family members who provide the love, continuity, stability and cultural connections kids need. Implementing kinship navigator programs can go a long way toward establishing effective kin care policies in your agency.”

How much money does the federal government have available for kinship navigator programs in 2018?

Amounts available vary by state, from an estimated $206,630 allotted for Wyoming to more than $1 million for California. Estimated state amounts are listed in the program guidance; funds will be available by Sept. 30, 2018.

How does the application process work?

It’s a streamlined process. The application, due July 20, 2018, requires 1) submission of a budget request form; and 2) a brief program narrative outlining proposed activities. It does not require a funding match.

Why kinship navigation?

Kinship navigator programs link kinship families with resources to meet their needs. These programs coordinate efforts among public agencies and educate workers and families about eligibility requirements. “We hear a lot of concern about the lack of services and resources to help kin caregivers meet children’s needs,” says Allison Blake, who is leading the Foundation’s Family First work. “Casey believes kinship navigation programs can help states significantly bolster their direct services continuum for all kinship families. This includes those caring for children in foster care, along with those caring for children as an alternative to custody or with no child welfare involvement.” Blake — who formerly served as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families before joining Casey as a senior fellow — notes that comprehensive kinship navigation programs often include assessment, direct services, referral to services and peer support groups, among other components.

What are kinship navigator funding mechanisms?

Congress recently provided two funding paths:

  • Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations. The federal government has allocated $20 million for all states and tribes operating a Title IV-E program. This is the opportunity that requires an application by the July 20, 2018 deadline. For this round of funding, kinship navigator programs do not need to meet standards of evidence set forth in the Family First Act. However, funds should be used to install, enhance or build evidence for such programs, as evidence will be required to qualify for Title IV-E funding as of Oct. 1, 2018.
  • Family First. This legislation allows states to claim Title IV-E funding at a 50% match rate for kinship navigator programs. Programs will need to meet evidence standards of promising, supported or well supported, although these terms have yet to be defined in detail. Guidance should be available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at some point in the future.

Which kinship navigator programs meet the standards of evidence specified in Family First?

There is a two-fold challenge to receiving the 50% match for Family First kinship navigation programs. One is that there are currently few programs with an evidence base; the other is the question of how the law’s evidence standard — modeled on the criteria of the well-respected California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBCCW) — will be interpreted.

Today, the CEBCCW does not include a kinship navigator program with an evidence rating but programs and ratings may be added in the near future. For example: “We are aware of a kinship navigator program at the Children’s Home Network in Florida that has been evaluated and may meet the evidence standard,” says Jennifer Miller of ChildFocus, a Casey consultant and kin care expert. The program is developing an implementation manual and will apply shortly to be added to the database.

There may be other pathways to meeting the evidence-based standards. “There are lots of programs not in the clearinghouse that states could make a good case for being promising,” says Geen. “It may be that evidence-based, navigator-type programs from other fields — such as juvenile justice or mental health — can be adapted to child welfare to meet the standards.”

How can agencies build effective programs for kin caregivers, given this uncertainty?

A: “My advice is to think about how you can use this funding to do better by your kin caregivers, whether by starting new support programs, improving your current approach or evaluating your most promising approaches,” says Blake. Casey suggests:

  • Move beyond information and referral to direct services. Certainly, kin caregivers need to know how to access services, benefits, information about legal options and more. “But kinship navigator programs can be much more comprehensive and helpful,” says Miller, who points to the benefits of providing assessment of children and caregiver needs, direct and concrete services to help kin caregivers cope, peer-to-peer support groups and trauma-informed services for caregivers and children.
  • Create more community-based approaches. Kin families are often understandably fearful of asking for help from a public child welfare agency. “We encourage public agencies to consider using community-based organizations as service providers,” says Blake. “Kinship caregivers and children may find it easier to trust those familiar, local groups.”
  • Serve children inside and outside foster care. Kinship navigation money is not limited to children in foster care. For jurisdictions that place children with kin as an alternative to foster care (a practice also called diversion), this provides an opportunity to meet caregiver needs and safely prevent foster care entry.
  • Create a kin ombudsman. “We were pleased to see ‘kinship ombudsman’ as a possible use of the 2018 Family First funds,” says Geen. “This is a great opportunity to hire a dedicated staff person to oversee all kinship care policy and practice in the state, shore up kinship philosophy, analyze and share data, improve practice in the field, manage kinship contracts and more.”

Are additional resources available as agencies develop kinship navigator applications for July 20?

Generations United’s kinship navigator page includes links to a variety of useful resources, including an evaluation of the Florida kinship navigator program and links to earlier kinship navigation programs funded by the Children’s Bureau.

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