Academic journal article Child Welfare

Placement Stability of Children in Informal Kinship Care: Age, Poverty, and Involvement in the Child Welfare System

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Placement Stability of Children in Informal Kinship Care: Age, Poverty, and Involvement in the Child Welfare System

Article excerpt

Approximately 2.3 million children in the United States, or about 3% -of all children, live in kinship care (Radel, Bramlett, Chow, & Waters, 2016; AECF, 2012). The Child Welfare League of American (CWLA) defines kinship care as the "full-time nurturing and protection of children who must be separated from their parents by relatives, members of tribes or clans, godparents, step-parents or other adults who have a kinship bond with a child" (CWLA, 1994, p. 2). In the past decade, the number of children living in kinship care grew by 18% (AECF, 2012). This increase was due in part to child welfare agencies across the United States increasingly turning to relatives and other kin as a preferred out-of-home care option. However, only about 5% of all children living with kin are in public kinship care (AECF, 2012). The majority of children living with kin are placed "informally," meaning the arrangement was made voluntarily with the involvement of child welfare services or privately between parents and caregivers (Billing, Ehrle & Kortenkamp, 2002; Geen, 2004; AECF, 2012; Wallace & Lee 2013; CWIG, 2016; Walsh, 2013).

In this discussion, "kinship care" will refer broadly to the care of children by relatives or others to whom a kinship relationship is ascribed, while "public kinship care" refers exclusively to the out-ofhome care arrangement in which a child welfare agency assumes the custody of children and places the child with kin with or without a subsidy. "Informal kinship care" refers to both private and voluntary kinship care arrangements made outside of the formal foster care system. Additionally, formal foster care includes both public kinship care and public foster care with nonrelative foster parents.1

While considerable research exists on children in public kinship care, less is known about children in private and voluntary kinship care. Studies examining the well-being of children in informal kinship care find that these children may have similar risk factors as those in formal foster care and may experience maltreatment (Billing et al., 2002; Bavier, 2011; Kelley, Whitely & Campos, 2011; Stein et al., 2014). There is limited understanding, however, of the extent to which children in informal kinship care were ever involved with the public child welfare system. Furthermore, no studies to date have examined which child and caregiver characteristics influence the stability of informal kinship care.

To address these gaps, this study aims to answer the following questions: (1) What are the characteristics of children and their kinship caregivers in informal kinship care?; (2) To what extent were these children involved in the formal child welfare system before moving in with their kin?; and (3) What characteristics of children and their caregivers affect placement stability outcomes in informal kinship care? Based on matched data from surveys of kin caregivers at baseline and at a one-year follow-up and the child welfare administrative records of children in their care, this study examines these questions and offers practice and policy recommendations. This research is uniquely positioned to provide a profile of children in kinship care, many of whom have been subject to child maltreatment investigations, and to create an understanding of the stability of informal out-of-home care arrangements.


Reasons for Entering Informal Kinship Care

While evidence is limited, studies suggest that children are often placed with kin outside of the formal foster care system after a child maltreatment investigation (Gleeson et al., 2009; Park & Helton, 2010; Walsh, 2013; Stein et al., 2014). Parental neglect due to mental health, incarceration, or substance abuse are the primary reasons that children could not stay with their parents (Davis-Sowers, 2012; Kelley et al., 2000; Gleeson et al., 2009; Radel et al., 2016). Informal kinship care involves multiple pathways where a parent may have privately arranged placement with another relative or a child welfare agency may have asked kin to voluntarily take the children (Gleeson et al. …

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