Academic journal article Child Welfare

Permanency Outcomes in Kinship Care: A Study of Children Placed in Kinship Care in Erie County, New York

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Permanency Outcomes in Kinship Care: A Study of Children Placed in Kinship Care in Erie County, New York

Article excerpt

This article describes a longitudinal study of permanency planning for all of the 525 children placed in kinship foster care in Erie County, New York, in 1991. The study describes the length of time the children spent in care, the discharge destinations for the children discharged prior to October, 1995, and the discharge goal at the time of the study for the remaining children. The study showed that many children were adopted by their kin or were living with kin with the goal of adoption. This article also discusses a new approach, "Kinship Options," being developed by the Erie County Department of Social Services to assure permanent family connections for children who come into contact with the child welfare svstem.

A philosophy favoring relatives as the placement of choice for children in need of out-of-home care prevailed within the Erie County (New York) Department of Social Services (DSS) for many years prior to the 1989 enactment of a New York State law requiring that child welfare agencies explore the use of relatives as the placement of first choice. Chapter 744 of the New York State Laws of 1989 strengthened the focus on placements with relatives (often referred to as formal kinship care or kinship care) by requiring a search for a child's relatives and exploration of the potential for placement with those relatives. The statute also gave the courts authority to order that children be placed, either directly with a particular relative, or with the Commissioner of Social Services, with the direction that the child should reside with the relative, who should be approved for family foster care, if possible. Currently 2,500 children are in placement in Erie County; approximately one-half of them are placed with relatives.

In 1990, a report titled The Double-Edged Dilemma, published by the New York State Chief Judge's Task Force on Permanency Planning for Foster Children, explored the many complex aspects of placing children in "official" family foster care with relatives, rather than in an informal arrangement with family members [Meyer & Link 1990]. Despite many positive aspects of kinship care, the governmental interventions in a family's interactions that accompany "official" care may create problems that can complicate these arrangements. These inherent conflicts were examined in detail in that report, which focused on New York City cases but also highlighted concerns from around the country. One of the key issues the report identified was the difficulty of achieving a permanent resolution for each kinship situation.

Today, permanency outcomes for children placed in formal kinship care continue to be problematic for many child welfare practitioners. On the one hand, how can we ask relatives to adopt their grandchildren, nieces, or nephews when such action requires the termination of parental rights of the relative's children, sisters or brothers? On the other hand, out-of-home care is expensive and requires state supervision, including the provision of home visits, the maintenance of case records, and other intrusive interventions. How, then, can we justify leaving the children in formal kinship care from birth until they reach adulthood?

The information relating to kinship adoptions has become increasingly important in New York State, as the total number of children with a goal of adoption has more than doubled in the past few years. At the beginning of 1991, the total number of children in out-of-home care in Erie County included 271 children in foster care with a goal of adoption; by December 31, 1995 the number of children with the goal of adoption had grown to 674.

Previous research has shown that children linger longer in family foster care with relatives than with nonrelatives: "Of all first admissions in 1987, nearly 88% of the children whose first placement was in the home of an approved relative were still in care as of September 30,1989. In contrast, only about 40% of the children placed in regular foster homes were still in care" [Wulczyn 1990]. …

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