As part of CWLA’s pre-summit webinar series, Washington State’s Kinship Navigator Program shared modifications that were made to the enhanced model due to COVID and how the program has continued to maintain model fidelity despite the pandemic. 


Presenters included Dr. Angelique Day, from the University of Washington School of Social Work, Rosalyn Alber and Geene Felix Delaplane from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, and Holly Luna from the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families.


Washington State has made an effort to establish a Kinship Navigator program that is helpful to kinship caregivers and the children in the care of someone other than their parents, whether the caregivers are aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents. Over the past decade, the need and value of Kinship Caregivers have increased tremendously. In Washington State, 30 of the 39 counties, including some tribes, have depended on kinship care in some capacity. With the need for Kinship Care increasing, Washington State reveals the lessons learned throughout the past decade, and the best policies and practices to keep the Kinship Navigator Program strong and useful for caregivers and the children in care. 


According to Alber, the history of the Washington State’s Kinship Navigator program dates back to 2001, when Washington State Legislature appropriated funds to establish supports for the Relative Support Services Fund. In 2001, The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) was asked to complete a study on the prevalence and need of relative caregivers; and they were also asked to conduct a survey of kinship caregivers. 


In 2002, the research from the WSIPP was finally published, entitled “Kinship Care in Washington State: Prevalence, Policy and Needs” Based on the findings of this research, state legislation established a kinship care workgroup. Along with the workgroup, the linguistic needs were addressed within the kinship care system, and the first Spanish speaking support person was hired. In 2003 and 2004, the kinship navigator program officially launched. As the program developed, services for families were established, along with funding for the Tribal Kinship Navigator Initiative. 


Delaplane stated that the Kinship Navigator Program today provides many services to the caregivers who need them most. The services that were mentioned were: listen, support and advocate for kinship families, assist families with navigating multiple agencies (tribal, state and community), provide information and referral to community, state, and tribal resources, facilitating support groups, and emergency assistance and respite supports. 

Luna stated that partnerships with other state agencies are an essential aspect of the Kinship Navigator Program. One of the important aspects that were mentioned was the bridge between informal and formal kinship care communities. Formal care includes having court involvement or working with a social worker, and informal having no affiliation with DCYF. Holly Luna stated how important it is to allow families in both of these categories to access the same resources. 


Day talked extensively about the process evaluation that was completed in response to the kinship navigator program. The questions that were posed were: What the existing program looked like? How it was operating, and how has Washington’s practices changed since 2005? To answer these questions, Day explained different tasks that took place since 2005 and what those results looked like. A literature review was conducted to determine the best practices among kinship caregivers in the state of Washington. 


Day also showed research that was published relating to mental health among children in the care of kinship caregivers and those in foster care. Mental health is more of an issue among children in kinship and foster care. She also stated that children in family placements are less likely to attempt suicide, proving that family perseverance is key to a child’s success. 


While Washington’s Kinship Navigator program has been successful thus far, there are still measures to take to ensure it remains successful in years to come. The criteria that were stated in the PowerPoint were: expand the observation period through post-delivery of services, and partner with tribes to continue development and beta-testing of the culturally specific needs assessment tool. Another measure was to ensure the program’s future success was to publish two articles in peer-reviewed journals and submit evaluations to the Prevention Services Clearinghouse. By enhancing these measures, this will ensure the future of the Kinship Navigator program in the state of Washington will continue to flourish and meet the needs of every caregiver and child in care.