On March 8th, 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report on Kinship Navigator programs titled, “HHS Is Taking Steps to Help States Support Relative Caregivers with Evidence-Based Programs.” This report was requested in 2019 by then-Chairman of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Danny Davis (D-IL) and then-Ranking Member late-Representative Jackie Walorski (R-IN) to better understand how states are using Federal funds to invest in Kinship Navigator programs, particularly in consideration of the expansion of Title IV-E funding for prevention services through the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).
Of the 2.2 million children living with kin caregivers in 2022, the vast majority of these caregivers were caring for children outside of foster care arrangements, meaning that they are less able to access services and financial support. Kinship navigator programs are defined as, “services that assist kin caregivers in learning about and accessing programs and resources to meet the needs of the children they are raising, to provide help for the family as a whole to safeguard stability, and to promote partnerships among public and private agencies,” and serve caregivers regardless of their involvement with child welfare.
The GAO found that of the seven programs that have been reviewed by the Title IV-E Clearinghouse, only three have been approved: Ohio, Arizona, and Colorado have approved programs. However, none of these programs have accessed matching Title IV-E funds through Family First to date. Congress has appropriated about $20M in additional funds in Title IV-B for the last several years which states have used in a variety of ways; only about half the states have used these funds to evaluate their Kinship Navigator programs, which they will need to do if they are to be approved for Family First reimbursement.
In response to states and agencies expressing confusion about the Title IV-E Clearinghouse’s requirements and process, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released guidance to states in April 2019 that outlines the requirements, called the Handbook of Standards and Procedures. They report planning to update and release this Handbook for public comment later this year.