What Kinship Families Need to Help Kids Thrive

Posted December 6, 2013, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The 2.7 million children who live in kinship families benefit from the ability to live with relatives when their parents cannot care for them. Research shows many benefits of kinship care.  Compared to children in the general foster care population, for example, kids in kinship care are better able to adjust to their new environments, less likely to experience behavioral and psychiatric problems, and less likely to change schools.

On the other hand, caregivers in kinship families may struggle. Many are grandparents on fixed incomes. They may not have the financial resources to raise a child unexpectedly, especially children who face challenges because of their experience with abuse, neglect and separation from their parents. Kin caregivers are often under pressure: They tend to have higher poverty rates, less access to health insurance, and more physical or mental disabilities. Too often they are unaware of financial and other benefits that help children in their care heal and grow.  

Policy recommendations

Kinship families need more resources to support opportunities for kids in their care. Casey has three policy recommendations to aid the millions of families who have stepped up to care for kids. The recommendations target improvements in local, state and federal policies, such as:

  1. Increasing the financial stability of kinship families. We suggest two approaches: Make sure kin caregivers get the benefits to which they are eligible—and design TANF-funded programs to meet kinship caregiving families’ unique needs. TANF is Temporary Aid to Needy Families, the nation’s welfare program.
     
  2. Reducing barriers facing kinship foster families. Getting courts and public child welfare agencies to agree on how to treat kinship foster families would be a real improvement. So would ensuring that families caring for kids diverted from foster care get the advice and information they need. Are kin licensing standards streamlined and easy to navigate? That would help, as would having states opt into the federal government’s Guardianship Assistance Program, which provides federal subsidies to help children leave foster care with permanence.
     
  3. Enhancing other community-based and government responses. We suggest several key improvements, such as promoting stable housing, ensuring that caregivers have health care and affordable legal representation, and cutting any red tape that keeps children from being enrolled quickly in school.

For more detail on Casey's policy recommendations, read Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families.