Academic journal article Child Welfare

Health and Well-Being of Children in Kinship Care: Findings from the National Survey of Children in Nonparental Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Health and Well-Being of Children in Kinship Care: Findings from the National Survey of Children in Nonparental Care

Article excerpt

Once largely separate from the child welfare system, in recent decades kinship care has become an integral part of child welfare practice and is often used as a preventive alternative to foster care (i.e., voluntary kinship care), as a foster care placement (public kinship care), or as an exit destination (permanent kinship care). This complexity exists, in part, due to layers of federal statute that have evolved over time and are not entirely consistent. Since the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, child welfare agencies have been directed to consider giving preference to an adult relative over an unrelated caregiver when placing a child in foster care, provided the relative caregiver meets all relevant child protection standards (42 U.S.C. 671(a)(19)). In addition, since the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, agencies have been required to notify adult relatives when a child is placed in foster care (42 U.S.C. 671(a)(29)). Since 2008, federal law also has provided agencies with the option to establish kinship Guardianship Assistance Programs with partial federal funding under title IV-E of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 673(d); Testa, Snyder, Wu, Rolock, & Liao, 2015). Federal policy creates an inherent tension, however, as the preference for initial, temporary foster care placement with relatives is replaced by a hierarchy of permanency preferences that, if reunification with parents is not feasible, prioritizes first adoption, then placement with relatives (42 U.S.C. 675(1)). By 2014, nearly one-third of children in foster care (29%) and adopted from foster care (32%) nationally were cared for by relatives (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). Cassanueva and colleagues found that of children living outside their parents' home following a maltreatment investigation, an estimated 48% resided in private or voluntary kinship care (calculated from Exhibit 1 of Casanueva, Tueller, Dolan, Smith, & Ringeisen, 2012).

The tension between some kinship caregivers' reluctance to consider adoption and the policy preference for adoption as a permanency outcome has prompted a number of policy and practice responses. As of March 2016, 33 states and six Indian tribes have made guardianship subsidies a component of their Title IV-E permanency programs (Administration for Children and Families, 2016). Child welfare agencies have created initiatives to encourage relatives to adopt the children in their care and train caseworkers on speaking with relatives about adoption and guardianship options (Pasztor, Mayers, Petras, & Rainey, 2013). And child welfare agencies, relatives, and legal advisors have parsed the advantages and disadvantages of adoption versus guardianship (Saisan, Smith, & Segal, 2016).

Although placement preference is given to relatives, it remains unclear what nonparental living situations best support children's development (Winokur, Holtan, & Batchelder, 2014). Children in kinship foster care have shown more positive behavioral development, mental health, and placement stability than children in nonkin foster care (Wu et al., 2015; Winokur et al., 2014). Yet, children in nonkin foster care may fare better in accessing needed services and achieving adoption (Winokur et al., 2014).

Less is known about the well-being of children in private kinship care than about children in public kinship care (Littlewood, 2015). The living arrangements of children in public kinship care and nonkin foster care are similar in that both are monitored by caseworkers and in administrative databases from which children in informal kin care are absent (Stein et al., 2014). Researchers have lamented the lack of research on informal relative care following a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation (Stein et al., 2014). Little is known about whether children's situations improve if they are diverted to voluntary kinship care without oversight of the child welfare agency following a CPS investigation. …

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