Academic journal article Child Welfare

Philadelphia's Collaborative Process for Building a Responsive Agenda for Kinship Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Philadelphia's Collaborative Process for Building a Responsive Agenda for Kinship Care

Article excerpt

In Philadelphia, a collaborative process was used by the political, public, and private communities to respond to the emergence of kinship care as a child welfare entity. By framing kinship care in a context of shared concerns among these three bodies, the Philadelphia Kinship Care Task Force facilitated the emergence of advocacy for this social issue. The forging of a partnership among these disparate groups provided support and legitimacy for a national summit on kinship care and created an environment conducive to advancing a change agenda for policy and service reform.

As in most urban centers from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Philadelphia's kinship care placements began to grow at a greater rate than nonrelated foster home placements [Berrick et al. 1994; Gleeson & Craig 1994; Woodall 1993]. This dramatic growth in relative home placements was further stimulated by factors such as dwindling traditional foster home resources, an informed and active child advocacy body, and judicial orders [Kusserow 1992].

Background and Rationale for Summit Focus

In 1992, in my role as Director of Social Service Planning with the Philadelphia City Council, I was charged with evaluating trends within the child welfare system and presenting recommendations to the Council President for a summit meeting. Having been previously involved with several states' child welfare systems, I was aware that one common concern was kinship care.

Child welfare departments across the country were grappling with basic issues. Most child welfare practitioners had accepted the appropriateness of relative placements but needed to better define services, economic supports, and regulatory parameters. For many in the lay community, however, the image of the kinship care population was negative. Relative caregivers were often viewed as the root cause of the disintegrated family unit and the assumption of a caregiver's role for their young kin was viewed more as a family obligation than an act of good will. This diversity of attitudes on kinship care from the professional and private community limited most states from moving ahead on critical policy issues. Given this lack of progress and the vital need for responding adequately to this social change, it seemed that kinship care was the appropriate issue for a child welfare summit.

Validation of Rationale by Fact-Finding

In discussions with the Philadelphia Commissioner of Human Services and the Deputy Commissioner for the Children and Youth Division in 1992, I obtained data that supported the need for the city to pursue a planned course for its kinship care population. During the period from 1989 to 1992, the department's kinship caseload grew by more than 50% (773 to 1,164). If current placement trends continued, kinship placements were projected to double in the next fiscal year [City of Philadelphia 1993]. During this same period, Illinois experienced a 133% increase in cases (6,654 to 15,500) and New York a 12.5% increase (20,901 to 23,509) [Edmund S. Muskie Institute of Public Affairs 1995]. There was also some indication that some of the more recent kinship care cases consisted of children who had been in their relatives' care before being placed in kinship foster care.

Planning Tactics

Although the city could have taken on the role of convener of a summit meeting, other stakeholders were involved, and a group of 15 stakeholders were convened. The task force comprised two representatives each from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Philadelphia's Department of Human Services' Division of Children and Youth, a private child welfare agency, the Philadelphia City Council staff, and a legal child advocacy group; a representative from Family Court; and the director and three relative caregivers from a grass-roots kinship care support group (Raising Others' Children (ROC). This group of stakeholders became the planning body for all future summit activity. …

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