Maryland Modernizes Kinship Law to Find Families for More Youth in Foster Care

Posted June 6, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Intergenerational relationships, family values, love and care in Maryland.

Mary­land Gov­er­nor Wes Moore signed leg­is­la­tion in May 2024 that is the cor­ner­stone of the state’s shift to a kin-first cul­ture in child wel­fare. For youth expe­ri­enc­ing out-of-home care, the new law estab­lish­es a pref­er­ence for liv­ing with rel­a­tives, includ­ing fam­i­ly by choice.

The law mod­ern­izes Maryland’s child wel­fare sys­tem by remov­ing out­dat­ed lan­guage that excludes con­tem­po­rary con­cepts of fam­i­ly and updat­ing state reg­u­la­tions to reflect how fam­i­lies are formed today. When con­sid­er­ing the best inter­ests of chil­dren who require out-of-home care, Maryland’s kin-first approach pri­or­i­tizes adult-child bonds that are crit­i­cal to healthy devel­op­ment. The new law directs child wel­fare staff to iden­ti­fy kin as a pre­ferred place­ment for chil­dren who enter state custody.

When chil­dren expe­ri­ence out-of-home care, keep­ing them con­nect­ed to their fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tures and increas­ing the pool of pos­si­ble care­givers are top pri­or­i­ties for Mary­land Sec­re­tary of Human Ser­vices Rafael López.

When a child must expe­ri­ence out-of-home care, when­ev­er pos­si­ble they should be with kin who love them and can pro­vide the sta­bil­i­ty of a fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty and cul­ture,” López said. Research proves that kin­ship care min­i­mizes trau­ma and improves out­comes for chil­dren in fos­ter care.”

Who Can Be a Kin­ship Care­giv­er in Maryland?

In Mary­land, a kin­ship care­giv­er is:

  • an indi­vid­ual who is relat­ed to the child through blood or mar­riage, adop­tion, trib­al law or cus­tom, or cul­tur­al cus­tom or practice;
  • an indi­vid­ual who is unre­lat­ed to the child but has a strong famil­ial or sig­nif­i­cant bond with the child; or
  • a per­son iden­ti­fied by the child’s parent.

Maryland’s law rec­og­nizes the diver­si­ty of mod­ern fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships and the crit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions of com­mu­ni­ty and cul­ture to a child’s well-being. Before the new law, Mary­land treat­ed fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships, such as god­par­ents, fam­i­ly friends, men­tors and neigh­bors, as if they were strangers to the child. The new approach rec­og­nizes that fam­i­lies main­tain a vari­ety of extend­ed, healthy, cul­tur­al and com­mu­ni­ty bonds that sup­port a child’s well-being and is based on evi­dence that chil­dren are bet­ter off when placed in those rela­tion­ships than in insti­tu­tion­al set­tings or with non-relatives.

Lis­ten to our 2017 inter­view with López

If a poten­tial kin­ship care­giv­er can­not be locat­ed, the new law requires staff to seek a fam­i­ly-based fos­ter home that most close­ly meets the needs of the child. Case­work­ers must con­sid­er the child’s cul­ture, lan­guage, devel­op­men­tal and edu­ca­tion­al needs, and the placement’s dis­tance from the child’s home, sib­lings and extend­ed family.

Why is Mary­land Expand­ing Kin­ship Care?

Our data increas­ing­ly reveal that Mary­land chil­dren are miss­ing out on the oppor­tu­ni­ties kin­ship care pro­vides, which include ensur­ing chil­dren main­tain crit­i­cal, per­ma­nent con­nec­tions to fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty when youth require out-of-home place­ments,” López shared with leg­is­la­tors. Only 23% of Mary­land chil­dren in fos­ter care were placed with kin­ship care­givers as of Jan­u­ary 2024.”

Kin­ship care con­sti­tutes an increas­ing share of all fos­ter care place­ments nation­wide. The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion fund­ed a nation­al sur­vey exam­in­ing state kin­ship care poli­cies in 2022 and recent­ly pub­lished the find­ings in 2024’s Fam­i­ly Ties. From 2007 to 2021, kin­ship place­ments of chil­dren and youth ages birth through 17 have increased by 10%, the study reported.

Maryland’s changes are in line with pol­i­cy reforms occur­ring in many states over the past 15 years to pri­or­i­tize kin care­givers — and these are begin­ning to reshape how chil­dren and youth expe­ri­ence fos­ter care,” said Todd Lloyd, a senior pol­i­cy asso­ciate at the Foundation.

Research shows chil­dren placed with rel­a­tives are more like­ly to:

  • feel loved and accept­ed com­pared to those placed in insti­tu­tion­al settings;
  • ben­e­fit from con­nec­tions to sib­lings, cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ty and famil­iar activities;
  • have bet­ter out­comes for well-being and behavior;
  • expe­ri­ence improved chances for reunit­ing with par­ents; and
  • stay in a sta­ble place­ment with­out mul­ti­ple moves.

Learn more about kin­ship care

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