2006 Legislative Hot Topics
Kinship Care & Guardianship Assistance
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- Improve supports for grandparents and others caring for abused and neglected children by sponsoring and passing the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 985) and the Guardianship Assistance Promotion and Kinship Support Act (H.R. 3380). These bills will assist the millions of children who are being raised by relatives and other non-relative legal guardians because their parents are not able to care for them.
The Importance of Kinship Care and Guardianship
Subsidized guardianship is an important permanency option for children. Guardianship arrangements are frequently in place when adoption is not an appropriate option. The use of subsidized guardianships is relatively new; Massachusetts established the first program in 1983. By 2004, 35 states and the District of Columbia had subsidized guardianship programs. Kinship care and subsidized guardianship programs may allow a qualified caregiver to step in and provide care-care they may not otherwise be able to give because of the financial burdens such a role may require. Additionally, these placements offer an emotional and cultural benefit to children who cannot return safely to their parents and for whom adoption is not an appropriate option.
- Kinship care is a situation in which an adult family member, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other relative, provides a home for a child who cannot live with his or her parents. Kinship placements for children in child welfare provide an opportunity to keep families united through a time of crisis. Since 2001, kinship placements have increased across the country. The U.S. Children's Bureau gives three major reasons for this growth: the number of non-kin foster parents has not kept pace with need, child welfare agencies view the kinship option more positively, and courts have placed a higher value on the rights of relatives to act as foster parents. 1 Research also documents the benefits of kinship care for the child who must enter into protective care.
Congress enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997, which recognized a child's placement with a relative or a legal guardian as a permanency option for children in foster care. However, the federal government currently does not make any funds available on a continuing basis to support those placements. States do use a variety of approaches to fund kinship arrangements and subsidized guardianship placements. Some states are able to use Title IV-E Foster Care funds due to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granting a state's request for a waiver. Other states have relied on other federal sources, including TANF or the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).
Recent Legislative Action
The DRA also includes the reauthorization of TANF, which imposes new work requirements that could divert TANF funds currently used for child welfare to implement these new requirements. The President's proposed budget for 2007 also cuts funding for SSBG by 30%, reducing funding from $1.7 billion to $1.2 billion. Many states use those funds to support kinship and guardianship placements.
- Congress passed legislation in February 2006 (the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 (DRA)), which strips away supports for grandparents and other relatives caring for abused and neglected children. The bill cut federal Title IV-E Foster Care assistance by $577 million. 2 These cuts were accomplished by repealing a 9th Circuit judicial ruling (Rosales v. Thompson) that had expanded Title IV-E foster care eligibility to some children being cared for by grandparents and other relatives. The bill also placed new restrictions on the use of Title IV-E administrative case management funding used to support abused and neglected children living with relatives by limiting federal reimbursement to cases where the relative caregiver meets all of the state's licensing requirements within 12 months, or the average time it takes to license foster parents in that state, whichever is less.
These changes directly impact the ability of grandparents and other relatives to care for abused and neglected children who cannot live safely with their parents. Abused and neglected children have the opportunity to thrive when they can live with a relative or guardian. Removing support for these caregivers jeopardizes their ability to care for these children. Many caregivers need support to provide proper care for these children. As a result, more children will be placed into and will remain in foster care with non-relatives.
Legislation Supporting Grandparents, Relatives, and Legal Guardians Caring for Abused and Neglected Children
Bipartisan legislation is pending in both the Senate (S. 985) and House (H.R. 3380) that affirms the importance of non-parental caregivers in the lives of abused and neglected children. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) are the initial sponsors of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 985) in the Senate, and Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) has introduced H.R. 3380, the Guardian Assistance Promotion and Kinship Support Act, in the House. These bills would assist the millions of children being raised by relatives and other caregivers because their parents are not able to care for them.
- Both bills would allow states, for the first time, to use federal Title IV-E foster care funds to help provide subsidized guardianship assistance payments to relatives so that the children they care for will not have to remain in foster care. H.R 3380 would also extend this support to non-relatives serving as guardians.
- These bills also provide supports to states and large metropolitan areas to establish kinship navigator programs, which would help grandparents and other relatives obtain information and referral services and other supports to meet the needs of the children they are raising. Grants also facilitate effective community-based partnerships between public and private nonprofit and faith-based agencies. These partnerships would bring together resources and support from a range of agencies that currently address the needs of children, youth, and the elderly.
- The legislation also requires states to notify relatives when children enter foster care within 60 days of a child's removal from custody. Notice must be provided to all adult grandparents and other adult relatives, including relatives suggested by the parent(s). Exceptions can be made to this requirement in cases of family or domestic violence.
- According to the 2000 Census, 6 million children live with relatives-4.5 million live with grandparents, a 30% increase between 1990 and 2000. Most of these families are not a part of the formal child welfare system. 3
- Almost 20% of grandparents responsible for their grandchildren live in poverty. Overall population statistics in 1997 indicated that 27% of children living in grandparent-maintained homes lived below the poverty level, compared with 19% in households maintained by parents. 4
- U.S. Children's Bureau. (2000). Report to congress on kinship foster care. Available online at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/kinr2c00. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. back
- To access a complete analysis and summary of the legislation, visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/fostercare060201.htm. back
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Census 2000 summary file 1: Table P28, relationship by household type for population under 18 Years. Available online at www.factfinder.census.gov. Washington, DC: Author. back
- Ibid. back
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