Academic journal article Child Welfare

Permanency Planning Options for Children in Formal Kinship Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Permanency Planning Options for Children in Formal Kinship Care

Article excerpt

This article describes efforts under way in Illinois to improve permanency outcomes for children in formal kinship care. Between June 1986 and June 1995, the number of children in the state's home-of-relative program increased sevenfold. Administrative and judicial changes in the 1990s contributed to a permanency planning crisis, as reflected in declining discharge rates. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) developed a special permanency planning status-Delegated Relative Authority (DRA)-for children in secure and stable family foster care with relatives. This article presents findings from 1,116 assessments of children in formal kinship care that tested the feasibility of the DRA option. The growth of foster care by relatives who are formally recognized by the child welfare system as foster parents (hereinafter referred to as formal kinship care) poses special challenges to the usual assumptions and practices of permanency planning. Because the dynamics of care by kin differ from those of care by persons unrelated to a child, and because placement takes on another meaning when children are entrusted to grandparents, aunts, and uncles instead of foster parents unknown to them, it is important that child welfare authorities develop new pathways for moving children out of public custody into private family care. Some of these pathways can be carved out from existing policies by altering the rules under which government seeks to regulate formal kinship placements. Others will have to be developed anew by qualifying legal arrangements besides adoption for public subsidy. For any of these changes to be ultimately successful, it will be necessary for society to reach a new consensus on an acceptable division between public and family responsibilities in the upbringing of minors who cannot live with their parents. Attaining this consensus becomes especially urgent given the impending changes in federal support of families with dependent children.

This article describes efforts under way in Illinois to improve permanency outcomes for children in long-term formal kinship care. Illinois was the source of the original class-action suit that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Youakim [1979], which concluded that kinship was an unacceptable basis under federal law for discriminating among licensed family foster care providers. It was among the first states to legislate preference for formal kinship placements and to modify family foster home licensing standards to accommodate the influx of state wards into paid relative care. Currently, Illinois is the site of some of the most comprehensive and sharply contested changes being made in the way states coordinate public assistance benefits with child welfare services and exercise protective authority over children in informal as well as formal kinship care.

After providing background on recent trends in formal kinship care in Illinois and several other large states, this article presents results from the Relative Caregiver Social Assessment (RCSA) study that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) sponsored in 1993. One purpose of the study was to test the feasibility of implementing a new permanency planning status, which IDCFS labeled Delegated Relative Authority (DRA). The status reduces casework services and administration to a minimum and delegates additional authority to relatives to make decisions on behalf of children in state custody without first receiving clearance from IDCFS. The assessment found that workers recommended DRA for almost one in four children (24%) in long-term formal kinship care. Quite unexpectedly, the assessments also revealed that a sizeable fraction of caregivers were willing to consider adopting the children in their care-a finding that runs contrary to the widespread notion that caregivers are unwilling to adopt their own kin [Rowe et al. 1984; Thornton 1991]. Workers recommended kinship adoption for an additional 21% of children in the study. …

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