Kinship Care in an Era of Cost Containment

By Sullivan, Richard; Nelson, Margo et al. | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Kinship Care in an Era of Cost Containment


Sullivan, Richard, Nelson, Margo, Oliver, Amanda, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

Although the provision of out-of-home care for children deemed to be at risk of abuse or neglect is a necessary component of child welfare services, the persistence of poor social, health and educational outcomes for children in care (Simms, Dubowitz & Szilagyi, 2000; Weinberg, Zetlin & Shea, 2009; Winokur et al., 2008) points to the need to evaluate the extent to which the child welfare system adequately provides for the developmental needs of children in care. Between 1990 and 2005, there was an increase in the number of children being removed from the care of their parents and placed in foster care, both in Canada and the United States (Mulcahy & Trocme, 2010; U.S. Children's Bureau, 2013). This, together with a range of other political, economic and social factors, helped herald the increased utilization of formalized kinship care arrangements as an alternative to non-family foster care. In some jurisdictions this has stabilized or even reduced the numbers of children entering non-family foster care.

Kinship care arrangements have been defined in the United States as an "out-of-home placement with relatives of children who are in the custody of state and local child welfare agencies" (Scannapieco, Hegar & McAlpine, 1997, p. 480). In Canada, all jurisdictions have implemented some form of kinship care, and many are diligently trying to ensure that children are being raised by extended family members rather than in government care (Dill, 2010, Gough, 2006; Government of Alberta, 2009). This is no less true in British Columbia (BC) where by 2012, the percentage of children in out-of-home who were placed in kinship care had grown to 17% (Federation of Community Social Services of BC and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. 2012). This occurred at the same time that the total number of children in care declined (with the exception of First Nations children), reflecting the diversion of many children from provincial custody through informal agreements with kith and kin and other family support efforts (ibid.). A similar pattern of reduction through diversion and reliance on kinship care arrangements has been evidenced in Canada (Dill, 2010), the U.S. (U.S. Children's Bureau, 2013), and in the U.K. (Farmer, 2009).

Important elements of the rationale for pursuing kinship care are the desire to maintain children's family relationships, the potential for cost savings to government, and efforts to maintain cultural continuity for children, particularly aboriginal children. There are also some developmental advantages to kinship care arrangements. Children placed in care with relatives experience fewer placement disruptions than children living in traditional foster care and experience less disruption to family, community, and cultural connections (Child Welfare League of America, 1994; Greef, 1999; Berrick, 2000; Webster, Barth and Needell, 2000; Kortenkamp & Erhle, 2002). There are also financial incentives for government, as kinship carers receive significantly less financial and practical support from social care systems than do regular foster carers. As a result, kinship policies and other out-of-care options have become fundamental tools of government, whose declared mandate is "to reduce expenditures in all areas of public services, child welfare services included" (Callahan, Brown, MacKenzie & Whittington, 2004, p. 59). This raises the question of whether current kinship care policy is more effectively meeting the fiscal aspirations of government cost containment rather than the needs of children and their carers.

This paper will provide an analysis of the evolution of various kinship care arrangements in British Columbia with a view to identifying the interests served and omitted by these arrangements. In light of the important role played by grandmothers in the provision of kinship care, and in consideration of the disproportionate numbers of First Nations families involved with the child welfare system, the intersection of race, class and gender will be emphasized as essential to an analysis of the effectiveness of policies conducive to kinship care. …

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