Academic journal article Social Work Research

Who Goes into Kinship Care? the Relationship of Child and Family Characteristics to Placement into Kinship Foster Care

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Who Goes into Kinship Care? the Relationship of Child and Family Characteristics to Placement into Kinship Foster Care

Article excerpt

This study used administrative child welfare data from California to examine the relationship of the characteristics of children and their families to whether children were placed in kinship foster care or in some other form of child welfare placement. It was found that many characteristics of children and their families--such as children's age and race, children's health status, type of family from which children were removed, AFDC eligibility of the family from which children were removed, and the reason for which the children were removed from their caregivers--are related to the type of foster care setting in which children were placed.

Key words: administrative data; foster care; kinship foster care; logistic regression

Foster care is a large, growing, and often understudied social services program (Courtney, 1994c). The number of children in out-of-home care is clearly rising. Although there is B no centralized national registry of these children, all 50 states annually provide information on their out-of-home care populations to the Voluntary Cooperative Information Service (VCIS) of the American Public Human Services Association. According to VCIS information, the number of children in out-of-home care has steadily grown from 262,000 in 1982, to 400,000 in 1990, to 507,000 in 1996 (personal communication with P. Shapiro, American Public Human Services Association, January 15, 1999). 1997 and 1998 data are not currently available (Shapiro).

One aspect of the substantial growth in the number of children in out-of-home care in recent years is the rise in what has come to be known as kinship care. Kinship care is a particular form of family foster care in which children are placed with foster parents who are biologically related to them. Certainly, it is true that throughout history kin often have cared for children on an informal basis. However, kinship care refers to a "formal" arrangement in which care for a child is legally transferred through a court order to the child welfare system, and in which the child's kin become his or her foster parents. Most often, these kinship foster parents are grandparents of the child or an aunt or uncle. Less often, these kinship foster parents are older siblings or some other relatives of the child. Some limited research suggests that kinship foster parents are more likely to be older, to be African American, and to have lower incomes than nonkin foster parents (Berrick, Barth, & Needell, 1994). Since the early part of the 1980s, kinship care has grown from a relatively rare form of child welfare placement to a very common one (Berrick et al., 1994; Berrick, Needell, & Minkler, 1999; Dubowitz et al., 1994; Gleeson & Craig, 1994; Goerge, Wulczyn, & Harden, 1994; Scannapieco & Hegar, 1999; Takas, 1992).

GROWTH OF KINSHIP FOSTER CARE

It often is argued that kinship care is a way for the child welfare system to deal with growing numbers of children in need of out-of-home care placements (Barth & Berry, 1994; Berrick, 1998; Gleeson & Craig, 1994). As noted, the number of children in need of foster homes has grown during the past decade. However, the number of available licensed foster homes has steadily declined nationwide during the same decade. In an article on the "Foster Family Shortage" the Child Welfare League of America (1995) reported that the number of family foster homes declined from "147,000 in 1985 to 125,000 in 1994." Placement with kin may thus represent a way of finding new foster homes at a time when the child welfare system is confronted with increasing demands for its services in the face of declining resources.

The way for growth in kinship care also has been paved by developments in federal legislation. Enacted in 1980, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) requires child welfare authorities to plan for a placement for a child that provides permanency and to evaluate these plans regularly through a set of administrative and court hearings. …

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