Kinship Care

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kinship care

Generally, foster children cared for by biological relatives of the birthparents. Sometimes included under the definition are informal arrangements that do not involve foster care or any government involvement.

As part of FAMILY PRESERVATION, or to avoid TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION, kinship care has been seen as a way to keep children in their biological families until their birthparents can care for them. As many as half of the children in foster care may be living with a relative. According to a 1998 article in Social Work, "Currently, although all states treat kinship care as a kind of family foster care guided by federal policies on out-of-home placements .?.?. jurisdictions vary widely in their kinship care policies and practices." For example, relative caregivers may or may not be able to receive foster care payments, depending on policy.

An advantage to kinship care is that the child can continue contact with relatives. It may also be less stigmatizing to a child to be in kinship care than to be in the foster care system. The key disadvantage, however, is that sometimes the extended family has as many emotional or other problems as the birthparents and thus is not always a suitable caretaker of children.

Kinship arrangements are likely to involve caregivers who are older, in poor health, have less education and are poorer than nonrelative foster parents. Also, the child may have more contact with the abusive or neglectful parent than social workers feel is appropriate. In addition, critics argue that kinship care providers are not as thoroughly screened by state social workers as are nonrelative foster parents, nor are the children's cases monitored as closely. Adoption is also less likely, as relatives are hesitant to move to terminate parental rights.

In most cases, the person providing kinship care is the child's grandmother, followed by the aunt, although if the child is an infant, the aunt or great-aunt is more likely to provide care. Some research has indicated that as many as 90% of the children in kinship care are African Americans. Conversely, in some states where Latinos are the majority ethnic group in foster care, they are underrepresented among kinship care families.

As with children in foster care, children in kinship care often do not receive adequate immunizations or routine health care or dental care. According to an article in a 1998 issue of Pediatric Nursing, "There are greater numbers of developmental and mental health problems in children in kinship care than in children in foster care." When health care is used, it is often the hospital emergency room, because the child has no regular physician.

According to CQ Researcher, because of problems with kinship care some states have established a "subsidized guardianship" arrangement, wherein the relative receives a monthly subsidy and is established as the child's legal guardian. But there are serious questions about using "guardianship" as a means to deal with these problems.

Because of serious problems with children who remain in the foster care system, many of whom are in kinship care, the ADOPTION AND SAFE FAMILIES ACT was passed in 1997. This legislation was created to move children out of foster care and back to their families or to an adoptive family, but it does provide language that is flexible and can be used by the states in kinship care.

(See also FOSTER CARE; GRANDPARENTS; GRANDPARENT ADOPTIONS.)


Rachel Cox, "Foster Care Reform," CQ Researcher 8, no. 1 (January?9, 1998): 3-10.

Susan Gennaro, "Vulnerable Infants: Kinship Care and Health," Pediatric Nursing 24, no. 2 (March-April 1998): 119-124.

Maria Wilhelmus, "Mediation in Kinship Care: Another Step in the Provision of Culturally Relevant Child Welfare Services," Social Work 43, no. 2 (March 1998): 117-127.

Find more information on kinship care

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