Kinship care is when relatives step up to raise children when their parents can’t care for them for the time being. Today, nearly 2.7 million children are in kinship care in the United States. If you were raised by a grandparent, an aunt or a close friend, you were raised under kinship care.
Types of kinship fostering
What are the three types of kinship-based support? There is no uniform definition of kinship care, but there are three sometimes overlapping categories:
Private or informal kinship care.
These are arrangements made by families, with or without legal recognition of the caregiver’s status. Clear practice guidelines are collection of accurate, consistent child-level information are needed to know the number of children living in informal kinship arrangements (facilitated by child welfare agencies.
Diversion kinship care.
In some cases, child welfare agencies work with parents to facilitate moving a child to a relative’s care, sometimes by opening a case and sometimes by doing an assessment or child protection investigation (arrangements vary widely by jurisdiction). This category, called kinship diversion (also known as foster care diversion, voluntary placement or safety planning, among other terms), includes all children who have come to the attention of child welfare agencies and live with a relative or close friend of the family. Most of these children — up to 400,000 — are not in formal foster care.
Licensed or unlicensed kinship care.
In 2017, nearly 141,000 children and teens were in kinship foster care, defined as living with relatives but remaining in the legal custody of the state. This group represents 32% of all children in foster care, up from 24% in 2008.
The deep-rooted history of kinship care
Throughout history, families have cared for relative children during times of illness, poverty, incarceration, death, violence or other family crises. Many cultures continue this practice to this day, often outside of the social service or court systems.
In the past, many professionals have wondered whether child welfare systems might do a better job raising children than kin families with financial or other challenges. Today, most child welfare professionals agree that placing children with appropriate kin is the best living situation for children whose parents aren't able to care for them safely at home.
To learn more about kinship diversion practice, read The Kinship Diversion Debate today.
Some facts about kinship care
- One in 11 children lives in kinship care at some point before turning 18.
- One in five black children spends time in kinship care at some point.
What are some kinship care benefits?
Compared to children in the general foster care population, kids in kinship care tend to be:
- better able to adjust to their new environment;
- less likely to experience school disruptions;
- less likely to experience behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders; and
- more stable — they move less than kids in nonfamily foster care settings.
Kids and their kinship caregivers need assistance; often caregivers do not realize they are eligible for financial help:
- Fewer than 12% of kinship caregivers receive help from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, although nearly all are eligible.
- Only 42% of low-income kinship families get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps).
- Only 42% of children are covered by Medicaid.
- Assistance with child care and housing costs are received by only 17% and 15% of kinship families, respectively.
Interested to know what young people think about kinship care? Check out Boundless Futures: Building a Youth-Focused Child Welfare System, authored by the 2019 class of foster youth interns for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Two of the interns’ reports (No. 3 and No. 10) propose kinship policy improvements.
Kinship care resources for agencies and caseworkers:
Kinship policy resources:
Resources for kinship caregivers and their communities: