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Kinship Care: About the Program

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's 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 200,000 children, about one-third of all children in foster care, are living with relatives (US Dept. of Health and Human Services: Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care. June 2000);

  • According to 2000 U.S. Census more than 2 million grandparents are raising 4.5 million children and other relatives are raising an additional 1.5 million children;

  • In Illinois, in 1998, approximately 19,945 (38%) out of the 34,650 children in out of home care were in kinship living arrangements (US Dept. of Health & Human Services: Report to the Congress on Kinship Foster Care, June 2000;

  • In New York, in 2001 there were 8,671 (21%) in kinship care out of 40,409 children placed in out of home care (New York Office of Children & Family Services, 2001); and

  • In Maryland, there are approximately 2,248 children in kinship care as of December 2000 (Maryland Department of Human Resources Social Services Administration Monthly Management Report August 2001).
State by state data continues to be difficult to obtain because many states do not separate kinship care from unrelated foster parents in their reporting system.

A Look at the U.S. Census Bureau 2000 Numbers
The U.S. Census Bureau has released 2000 Census Data on "Relationship by Household Type for the Population Under 18 years." This includes the number of children under the age of 18 who are living with their grandparents or other relatives. To access the data log on to Click American FactFinder on the left side of the Census home page. You can also access the data through Casey Family Services web site

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 and custody and guardianship. Federal legislation strongly encourages adoption as a viable permanency option for children in kinship care. Child welfare professionals should engage families in the decision-making process to establish an appropriate legal permanency plan. Adoption, however, may be an appropriate permanency option for some kin families.

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 and authority of 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.

Eight states are implementing subsidized guardianship through the U.S. Department of Human Services (DHHS) five-year waiver program. These states consist of California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico and Oregon. These subsidized guardianships give the caregiver the opportunity to become the legal guardian of the child.

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, respite 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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