The layers of the child welfare sector are complicated and often difficult to navigate. This article is one of a series of occasional posts that takes an in-depth look at a particular aspect of the child welfare sector, and what it means to individuals and organizations focused on reform
Raising healthy, happy children is a monumental effort that takes input from many people beyond a child’s immediate caregivers, thus the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” Having support from community, friends, and family members like aunts, uncles, and grandparents, ensures that children learn from and are guided by multiple caring adults.
Yet in the current foster care system, too many children don’t have the option of being cared for by relatives or other adults with whom they have existing, significant relationships. As the modern foster care system evolved over time since the 1930s, removing children from their families entirely has become standard practice, with the government placing children with non-related foster parents.
Historically, Native communities have been specifically targeted, with Native children being removed and placed in non-Native homes at alarmingly high rates. From the 1940s through 1967, approximately one third of Native children had been separated from their families, and through the 1970s, 25 percent of Native American children were living with non-Native families. These placements continued a tradition of government programs whose goals were to alienate children from their languages, cultural practices and heritage.
The narrow, parent-centric model of family is rooted in colonial ideas that the US government has adopted as the ideal familial composition, in turn prioritizing unrelated foster parents over having children live with grandparents or other relatives.
Across the country, racial disparities remain across the country, with Black children being removed far more often than white children, even when their cases of abuse or neglect may be deemed less severe than white children.
A Focus on Kinship
More recently, researchers have proven what many already knew: placing children with relatives – what is called kinship care in the child welfare field – creates better outcomes than placing children with non-related foster parents.
Research has shown that children placed in kinship care are less likely to re-enter foster care once reunited with their biological parents, have fewer behavioral problems, and have better cultural and familial connections.
Although the benefits of kinship care are clear, currently, there are many barriers in place that keep children from being placed with close relatives when it is not possible for them to live with their parent(s). From complicated licensure processes to inequity in financial support, these barriers also mean that states and counties have varying rates of foster children placed in kinship care. In 2017, rates ranged from 4 percent of children in kinship placement, to 47 percent.
Foster America’s role
In April 2021, Foster America launched our sixth cohort of fellows. Fellows have been placed into teams with specific focus areas for improvement. The kinship care team is working across Oklahoma, Washington state, and San Diego County to improve the recruitment, licensing and support of kinship caregivers. Each of these placement sites has complementary strengths and weaknesses, and our fellows will share learnings from their respective agencies for replication elsewhere.
In Washington state, one goal for the Foster America fellow is to make the process to licensure quicker and less onerous for relatives who step forward as caregivers. When family caregivers become licensed, they then have access to the supports and financial resources that come along for licensed non-relative foster parents.
Oklahoma has implemented highly-impactful one-month start-up payments that enable kinship caregivers to afford caring for their foster child(ren) while the licensing process is underway. With our team approach, we are streamlining the process for San Diego County, Washington state, and other jurisdictions to implement similar measures.
Additionally, advancing more equitable outcomes for children in care will be central to our fellows’ work.
In San Diego, Foster America’s fellow’s work will focus on uplifting family, youth, and community voices in the redesign of kinship care policies, processes, and services, thus enabling county and partnering agencies to make more equitable decisions.
In each of these fellowships, kinship care learnings and innovations will be advanced with an eye towards replication elsewhere.
Click here to learn more about the fellows who comprise our kinship care team.