Kinship care, the practice of an adult family member providing a caring home for a child who is not able to live with their parents, is a valuable permanency option for children in out-of-home care. As of 2018, 2.7 million children in the United States lived with kin caregivers —the majority of whom are grandparents—with 139,000 of those children in formal foster care (GAO, 2020).
Although the practice of relatives caring for children is a time-honored tradition in many cultures, and particularly celebrated in Black communities, there was no nationally recognized, consistent name for the policies and practices of placing children with relatives until 1991, when CWLA began widespread promotion of the term kinship care. As the use and understanding of the term began to gain traction, so too did new policies and practices that appropriately recognized and supported the important role of kinship caregivers.
CWLA’s National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare emphasizes the importance of children maintaining connections with their families and communities, as well as accessing information about their family history and background. Kinship parenting provides a strong foundation upon which to achieve these goals, where a loving, caring relationship has a firm footing and can flourish, and can help preserve a child’s connections to family traditions, history, and culture.
However, despite the importance of kinship care, there are legislative barriers that complicate kinship placements. These barriers include a federal background check requirement that has resulted in some relatives, no matter how long ago their violation occurred, being ineligible for subsidized guardianship—even if placement with that relative is the best option for the child. Prior to 2006, when Congress eliminated the option, states were able to opt out of these background check requirements: an important step in ensuring that children are placed with the most appropriate caregiver.
Another significant barrier that kinship caregivers face is the mandatory waiting period under the Title IV-E Subsidized Kinship Care Guardianship Assistance Program, which requires six months before a child in foster care can be permanently placed in a subsidized guardianship arrangement with a relative. This waiting period prevents kinship caregivers from accessing the resources necessary to ensure that they can sustainably and appropriately provide for the children in their care.
Just as kinship caregivers step up for children, society must rally to reduce stigma and ensure supports and services to keep these families strong.