Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Impact of State TANF Policy Decisions on Kinship Care Providers

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Impact of State TANF Policy Decisions on Kinship Care Providers

Article excerpt

Based on a survey of public assistance and child welfare agency staff, this article examines how state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) policy decisions have affected kinship care providers. Findings indicate that most states have continued using TANF to provide income support to kinship caregivers, and some have used TANF to find related support services. These payments, however, are much lower than rates for licensed providers, and many kinship caregivers are subject to work, training requirements, and time limits.

Child welfare experts have raised many concerns about the increased demands Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs may place on child welfare caseloads. Such speculation generally has centered on the possibility that TANF-related financial difficulties or related psychological problems could lead to increased incidences of abuse and neglect (Courtney, 1997), caused by stresses associated with reductions in welfare benefits, application of TANF time limits and work requirements, inadequacy of child care as mothers increasingly work outside the home, and the economic and emotional strains of many low-wage jobs (Courtney, 1997; Mathews, 1999; Mullen, 1996; Testa, 2000).

Early empirical evidence has not found substantial child welfare caseload increases or other indications of declining well-being that can be clearly attributed to TANF (Duncan and Chase-Lansdale, 2000). Paxson and Waldfogel (2001), however, find that declining welfare benefits are associated with higher demands for child welfare services. The recent recession also casts doubt on the sustainability of early optimistic TANF findings and suggests the need for continued research scrutiny on TANF child welfare effects (Duncan and Chase-Lansdale, 2000).

Although child welfare research concern has focused on potential demand issues, TANF also could affect the supply of kinship care providers or the quality of care they offer. Foster care provision has increasingly emphasized kinship caregiving (Harden, Clark, & Maguire, 1997), and large proportions of these providers traditionally have been paid through public assistance programs (Ehrle, Geen, & Clark, 2001). Thus, changes in TANF payments to relative caregivers, as well as work or other program requirements, could make kinship care provision less desirable. The well-being of children in kin placements likewise may be affected substantially by the resources received by and the demands placed on their kinship caregivers.

The impact of TANF on kinship care providers will be affected largely by state program and policy decisions, because TANF devolved the most important aspects of welfare decisionmaking to the states. Based on a survey of TANF and child welfare officials in states with large child welfare caseloads, this article examines how state TANF policy decisions have affected the adequacy of supports available to kinship caregivers. After providing background on kinship care and describing study methods, the author first examines how TANF payment policies, work requirements, and time limits are applied to the broad range of kinship caregivers in various states. Selected effects of TANF policies on the subgroup of kinship providers that care for children in state custody then are explored, including both the range of funding options that states employ and the use of TANF funds for support services. Changes in the definitions of allowable kin caregivers also are described.

Background on Kinship Care Arrangements and Possible TANF Effects

Kinship care embodies a complex set of care arrangements involving substantial variations in levels of state agency involvement, financial support, types of financing mechanisms, and levels of state regulation and licensing. Geen (2000) classifies three primary categories of kinship care arrangements: cases in which the child has been removed from the home through a court order (kinship foster care), arrangements a child welfare contact has occurred without a court order (voluntary kinship care), and cases in which no contact with the child welfare system has occurred (private kinship care). …

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