Statement of Shay Bilchik, President/CEO, Child Welfare League of America, for the Senate Briefing on Kinship Care and the Re-Introduction of the Kinship Caregivers Support Act
Good afternoon. I am Shay Bilchik, President and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). CWLA welcomes this opportunity to participate in this briefing in support of kinship caregivers across the United States and this important legislation-the Kinship Caregivers Support Act.
By definition, kinship care is the full time care, nurturing, and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child. This definition is designed to be inclusive and respectful of cultural values and ties of affection. Beyond its formal definition, what kinship care provides is an opportunity for a child to grow to adulthood in a family environment. For many children it is also a lifeline to a safe and productive future. It is, therefore, the type of care that we must nurture and promote in every way possible.
In response to recommendations of the National Commission on Family Foster Care, a CWLA 1990 Biennial Assembly resolution, and requests from the child welfare field for policy and practice guidelines, CWLA convened the North American Kinship Care Policy and Practice Committee in 1992. The Committee wrote an extensive report on the definition of kinship care, the value of kinship care, conceptual framework and principles, and the need for sound legislation, policy & practice guidelines.
Over the years we have partnered with other organizations, including the Children's Defense Fund, Generations United, and many other groups, some of whom are represented here today, to highlight these families and better educate policymakers across the country and in Washington about the need to support these families wherever possible.
To many of you who have studied and worked in support of kin caregivers the numbers are familiar:
These families are a vital support for millions of children and are a key to ensuring the safety and permanency, as well as the nurturing and well-being, of these kids.
- Over six million children are living with a relative as their caregiver, approximately four and a half million of these with grandparents.
- According to the last census, nearly two and a half million grandparents reported that they were primarily responsible for their grandchildren.
- The same census survey tells us that nearly 20% of these grandparents live in poverty.
In a more formal sense, Congress also recognized the role of kinship and subsidized guardianships in assuring the well-being of children when they passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. ASFA emphasized the role of permanence, as well as safety, for children in the child welfare system. An incentive program was created for adoptions and states were directed to move children through the system more quickly into a permanent family setting. As part of this strategy, Congress also recognized the role of kinship placements as an important permanency option.
While Title IV-E of the Social Security Act provides federal funding to support some foster care and adoptive placements, states cannot use Title IV-E funding to support kinship placements outside of the formal foster care system and it cannot be used to support kinship guardianship placements. The only way some states have been able to seek federal support through Title IV-E is through a limited waiver process.
In addition to those children who are in the child welfare system, there are many families who never come in contact with that system but who are providing a critical nurturing role of caregiver. These are the many grandparents and relatives I referenced in the census figures. Families who also need support on some of the most basic needs that many of us may take for granted; things such as how to enroll their grandchild in schools, how to access health care, or where to find a support group or perhaps some basic information and referral services.
A recent survey by the Children's Defense Fund indicates that 35 states and the District of Columbia have some form of subsidized guardianship program. These programs vary by how they are funded, which caregivers are eligible, and which children are covered. Some have to rely on unstable sources of dollars or depend on block grants that are also addressing other needs in a state. Since 1997, seven states, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, have accessed Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance funds through a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The most notable of these waivers was conducted by the State of Illinois which found that they were able to increase the rate of permanency for children, reduce the number of placements in foster care, and actually increase the rate of adoptions. Illinois, as well as other states, have also demonstrated the cost neutrality of these programs, as they are better able to address needed services to families instead of focusing on requirements such as court time and other rated casework.
We are pleased that Congress has recognized the role of kinship in addressing and improving on the permanency of children. Many in Congress, including some members who have life experiences with kinship families, as well as important entities such as the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care and the Fostering Results project, have recommended expansion of federal support for kinship families. CWLA is pleased that Senator Clinton and Senator Snowe are going to re-introduce this legislation and we will be working with all members of Congress to support these families-both those in the child welfare system and those many families who are not formally recognized but are playing such a vital role in the lives of America's children.
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