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Kinship Care: Fact Sheet

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What is kinship care?

Kinship care is the full time care, nurturing and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, 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. It allows a child to grow to adulthood in a family environment.

Kinship care growth as a child welfare service

One of the most recent stunning changes in the child welfare system has been the major growth in the number of children in state custody who are living with their relatives. This shift has been so significant that its importance is fully national in scope. Some attributing factors for these increases are:
  • increased reporting of abuse and neglect;
  • a change in drug usage related to the spread of crack cocaine addiction and other drugs;
  • increased levels of poverty;
  • more children are affected by HIV/AIDS;
  • parents struggle with physical and mental health problems;
  • family violence and parental incarceration; and
  • decline in the availability of traditional foster homes.
The child welfare system explains the rapid growth in foster care by the above attributing factors. Kinship care has become the solution for many children who become known to the child welfare system.


  • It's estimated that approximately 150,000 foster care children, about one-third of all children in foster care, are living with relatives (US Dept. of Health and Human Services:Vol.: Narrative Rep. June 1997).

  • In 1998, 2.5 million of the nation's families were maintained by grandparents who had one or more of their grandchildren living with them. This number is up by 19 percent since 1990 (1998 U.S. Census Bureau).

  • In Illinois, approximately 27,000 of the 47,400 children in care are in kinship care (1997 CWLA Stat Book).

  • In California, 25,000 of the 44,000 children in care are in kinship care (1997 CWLA Stat Book).

  • In New York, an average of 16,859 of the City's 42,000 children living in foster care are in kinship care(Mayor's Office of Operations, 1996, CASA All IN THE FAMILY: A MIXED BLESSING, January, 1998).

  • In Maryland, there has been an increase in the number of children in kinship care from 154 in 1986, to 3,200 in 1997 (MD Monthly Management Report, 1997).
National data for children in kinship care is not available, because many states do not separate relatives from unrelated foster parents in their reporting system.

Planning for Permanence

Research suggests that kinship care offers greater stability for children who are living with their relatives, but it reduces their chances of obtaining permanent legal status such as adoption, custody and guardianship. Federal legislation strongly encourages adoption as a viable permanency option for children in kinship care. Adoption may be an appropriate permanency option for some kin families; however, child welfare professionals should engage families in the decision-making process to establish a legal permanent plan.

Other forms of permanence such as legal guardianship may be an option for families to consider. Legal guardianship offers kin an opportunity to assume responsibility for the child, without severing parental rights. Some states are considering standby guardianship as a means of assisting kin when parents are terminally ill or incapacitated.

Planning for permanence for children should also include seeking appropriate support services for kin families. Kinship families are in need of support services such as: day care, support groups, physical and mental health services, educational services and legal assistance for kin caregivers. These services will support children while they remain in a safe and stable family setting.

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