Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kin Can and Do Provide Permanent Families for Foster Children

By Jennifer Miller, ChildFocus

Federal and state policies promote relative placements as the priority when children enter state custody. Recently, relatives have played an expanded role as resources for safety and permanency in the child welfare system. Relatives can help children preserve family relationships and help minimize the impact of separation from birth parent homes. (See CLASP's resource on kinship care.) They can provide support to birth parents working toward reunification. They are critical links for children in need.

When children cannot return home, relatives often provide permanence through adoption or guardianship. Adoptions by relatives increased from 15 to 21 percent between 1998 and 2000. By 2003, of the 50,000 children adopted from foster care, 23 percent were adopted by relatives. When adoption is not an option, guardianship is an increasingly viable permanency option. (Visit or for more on guardianship.)

Relative adoption is particularly beneficial to African American children, who are vastly overrepresented in foster care. According to Penelope Maza of the Children’s Bureau, the percentage of African American children adopted by relatives increased each year since 2000, reaching a high of 25 percent in 2004. (Read full report.)

Relatives are often heroic—putting their lives on hold, delaying retirement, or using retirement years to parent again. Unfortunately, these same relatives are often marginalized. On the whole, children living with relatives receive fewer services, less oversight, and less funding than those living with unrelated caregivers. (Learn more: Children Cared for by Relatives: Who Are They and How Are They Faring? and Identifying and Addressing the Needs of Children in Grandparent Care.)

Reforms are needed to ensure that children living with relatives receive the help they need, including:

• Federal support for subsidized guardianship
• More flexible resources to prevent the need for children living with relatives to enter foster care
• More flexible funding to support relative adoptions; and
• Allowing states to set licensing and training standards for relatives that are different than those for unrelated caregivers

Kinship care is no longer a discrete program that sits off to the side of the child welfare system. Instead, it has become the face of child welfare and helps children achieve the safety, permanency and well-being they deserve. But relatives cannot do it alone. It is time to recognize and support this role for what it is: creating the next generation of healthy and productive citizens.

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