What Kinship Families Need to Help Kids Thrive

Posted December 6, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog whatkinshipfamiliesneedtothrive 2013

The 2.7 mil­lion chil­dren who live in kin­ship fam­i­lies ben­e­fit from the abil­i­ty to live with rel­a­tives when their par­ents can­not care for them. Research shows many ben­e­fits of kin­ship care. Com­pared to chil­dren in the gen­er­al fos­ter care pop­u­la­tion, for exam­ple, kids in kin­ship care are bet­ter able to adjust to their new envi­ron­ments, less like­ly to expe­ri­ence behav­ioral and psy­chi­atric prob­lems, and less like­ly to change schools.

On the oth­er hand, care­givers in kin­ship fam­i­lies may strug­gle. Many are grand­par­ents on fixed incomes. They may not have the finan­cial resources to raise a child unex­pect­ed­ly, espe­cial­ly chil­dren who face chal­lenges because of their expe­ri­ence with abuse, neglect and sep­a­ra­tion from their par­ents. Kin care­givers are often under pres­sure: They tend to have high­er pover­ty rates, less access to health insur­ance, and more phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. Too often they are unaware of finan­cial and oth­er ben­e­fits that help chil­dren in their care heal and grow. 

Pol­i­cy recommendations

Kin­ship fam­i­lies need more resources to sup­port oppor­tu­ni­ties for kids in their care. Casey has three pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions to aid the mil­lions of fam­i­lies who have stepped up to care for kids. The rec­om­men­da­tions tar­get improve­ments in local, state and fed­er­al poli­cies, such as:

  1. Increas­ing the finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty of kin­ship fam­i­lies. We sug­gest two approach­es: Make sure kin care­givers get the ben­e­fits to which they are eligible—and design TANF-fund­ed pro­grams to meet kin­ship care­giv­ing fam­i­lies’ unique needs. TANF is Tem­po­rary Aid to Needy Fam­i­lies, the nation’s wel­fare program.
  2. Reduc­ing bar­ri­ers fac­ing kin­ship fos­ter fam­i­lies. Get­ting courts and pub­lic child wel­fare agen­cies to agree on how to treat kin­ship fos­ter fam­i­lies would be a real improve­ment. So would ensur­ing that fam­i­lies car­ing for kids divert­ed from fos­ter care get the advice and infor­ma­tion they need. Are kin licens­ing stan­dards stream­lined and easy to nav­i­gate? That would help, as would hav­ing states opt into the fed­er­al government’s Guardian­ship Assis­tance Pro­gram, which pro­vides fed­er­al sub­si­dies to help chil­dren leave fos­ter care with permanence.
  3. Enhanc­ing oth­er com­mu­ni­ty-based and gov­ern­ment respons­es. We sug­gest sev­er­al key improve­ments, such as pro­mot­ing sta­ble hous­ing, ensur­ing that care­givers have health care and afford­able legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and cut­ting any red tape that keeps chil­dren from being enrolled quick­ly in school.

For more detail on Casey’s pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions, read Step­ping Up for Kids: What Gov­ern­ment and Com­mu­ni­ties Should Do to Sup­port Kin­ship Fam­i­lies.

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