The Capacity Building Center for States hosted a webinar on September 13th entitled “Keeping Youth at the Center of Kinship Care Practice: Prioritizing Relationships, Community, and Culture”. They brought together three different presenting groups from California, Connecticut, and Alaska to talk about the benefits of kinship care and the different navigator programs that they have in place to make it more accessible.

Kinship care is the placement of foster youth into homes with people they already know, particularly extended family. Staying with family maintains those connections that foster youth so frequently lose, and is rooted in equity, as a disproportional amount of youth in foster care are members of marginalized communities. Prioritizing kinship care ensures that they will maintain a connection with their history and culture. Eliminating barriers for potential kinship caregivers is essential for making these kinds of placements more available for youth in care. The goal of these kinship navigator programs is to connect caregivers and youth with the resources they need to be successful.

Cynthia Vatalaro and Whitney Roberts introduced the virtual California kinship navigator program that the state had developed with the help of Think of Us, an advocacy organization comprised of people with lived experience in and around the foster care system. The goal of the site is to connect caregivers who reach out with resources and support. The program has seen a lot of success, which Vatalaro credits to their thorough vetting of the resources they refer people to and their intentionality to follow up. The Community Responders who take the requests from those seeking help all have lived experience with the foster system, which helps them be more empathetic and relatable. The navigator guarantees a response to requests within 72 hours, but the average response is much faster at just 7 business hours. The average resolution time for a request is just two weeks.

Tina Jefferson talked about ConnectiKIN, Connecticut’s kinship navigator program. Like California, ConnectiKIN aims to partner with kinship caregivers to provide support and resources to equip them to navigate the child welfare system. They recognize that unlike most non-relative placements, many kinship caregivers are not people who signed up to be foster parents or have had training on what options are available to them. They also seek to guide peer networking, helping youths with experience in the foster care system to form those connections.

Sheridan DesGranges presented the kinship care program of St. Paul Island, a small tribal community located 300 miles from the Alaskan mainland. The Aleut community prioritizes kinship care and keeping kids in their island community in order to preserve their cultures and traditions. Sixty percent of the kids in foster care in Alaska are Alaska Natives, and the kinship navigator program advocates for keeping those kids in their community and provides cultural support and events to aid in keeping youth connected to their history.

Kinship navigation programs serve to promote equity and permanence during what can be an incredibly painful time in a child’s life, and these models can serve as inspiration for other states looking to better support kinship caregivers and youth in foster care.

By Rebekah Lawatsch, Policy Intern