Academic journal article Child Welfare

Family Preservation and Support Services: A Missed Opportunity for Kinship Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Family Preservation and Support Services: A Missed Opportunity for Kinship Care

Article excerpt

This article discusses the historical significance of kinship care in preserving the African American family, the development of kinship care and family preservation programs, and the importance of the natural relationship between kinship care and family preservation services. Findings of a survey of states' use of kinship care in the development of plans for the Family Preservation and Support Services Act are presented. Whether child welfare agencies missed an opportunity to plan for kinship care in their family preservation plans is also explored.

In 1993, the United States Congress enacted the Family Preservation and Support Services (FPSS) Act [P.L. 103-66]. This act offered states a unique opportunity to reform their child welfare systems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidelines suggesting that states use the new act as a catalyst for establishing an integrated continuum of services that would be coordinated, family focused, and culturally relevant.

African American child welfare scholars and social workers "view kinship care (children placed with relatives) as a component of family preservation services as it gives children a chance to remain with their families" [Black Administrators in Child Welfare 1994]. To determine whether the federal FPSS guidelines specifically addressed kinship care, the authors examined the instructions to states for writing their plans. The federal guidelines listed kinship care among the elements that would ideally be a part of the service continuum. They did not, however, specifically encourage including children living with relatives in state plans for family preservation and support service programming [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1994].

Significance of Kinship Care for Child Welfare

African American children represent the largest percentage of children involved in the formal kinship care system [Berrick et al. 1994].* Therefore, it is appropriate that any program planning and development for this service category be cognizant of the historical concept of family from an African American perspective. African American child welfare professionals are concerned that a lack of cultural awareness may contribute to the failure of states to include kinship care in their Family Preservation and Support Services plans. To address this concern, the Black Administrators in Child Welfare, Inc. (BACW) sponsored a study that, in 1995, surveyed by questionnaire the state administrators who were contacts for the Family Preservation and Support Services programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The goal was to gather information from each state about the use of kinship care on the continuum of child welfare services. The study was proposed from recommendations made by a kinship care work group formed by BACW, which had earlier issued a policy statement recognizing kinship care as the preferred and viable option for children in the child welfare system who cannot live with their parents, as a way for the children to retain their essential sense of cultural and family identity. BACW expressed its commitment to ensuring that child welfare agencies demonstrate an understanding of kinship care as an aspect of cultural strength within the African American family and as a form of family preservation [Black Administrators in Child Welfare 1994].

The Role of Kinship Care in Preserving African American Families

Although the use of relatives for the care of their young kin is a new practice for the child welfare system, it is not new for African American families. The extended family is one of the rich traditions of the African American community [Billingsley 1992; Stack 1974; Daley et al. 1995]. The African proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," speaks to the collective role and sense of group responsibility held by the African community [Martin & Martin 1985]. During slavery, the African concept of extended family was responsible for the survival of the family. …

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