What is Kinship Care?

When children must be removed from their parents' custody, human services departments often look to relatives to provide Kinship Care. Many families feel it is moral obligation to step in and fill the need for a home and caregivers for their relatives. Although this brings some issues to families and adjustments that must be made, there is much evidence that it is generally a good choice for the child.

Kids Lose Much of their Identity When they are Placed in Foster Care

Kids who are taken into custody and placed in foster homes lose a lot of what constitutes their self-image. Even when the move to care is not sudden, they usually cannot take their pets. Many times they are separated from siblings. Although foster children can bring some toys into the new homes, they lose many of their possessions because most foster homes don't have the room for a child to move in with all his belongings. They must adjust to new rules and customs and may lose their cultural identity. Maybe they come from a family where birthdays are celebrated with piñatas and homemade tamales and the family they join doesn't like Hispanic food. Birthday celebrations for them in out-of-home care could be sad days, even bringing anger and acting out. When the removal is sudden, accompanied by law enforcement, it is frightening. They lose parents and siblings in a matter of hours and angry parents may not allow the human services department to take the child's clothing or toys.

How Many Children are Affected?

In the United States the number of children in foster care has stayed at about 500,000. That number reflects only the children who are in "the system." There are an estimated two million kids who are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, privately, or under the supervision of a department of human services. The website Child Welfare.gov says that a quarter of children in out-of-home placement reside with relatives. Some children are placed with close family friends who are called "fictive kin." There are simply not enough foster homes to care for all the children and who are willing to take in multiple kids so that siblings can stay together.

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What are the Benefits of This Kind of Care?

The most obvious benefit is that families are preserved. Reunification with parents is much more successful for children who have been in family care. Studies have shown that children in family care have greater stability then kids in general foster care. That comes from fewer placement moves, the ability to stay in a familiar school, greater acceptance by caregivers of kids keeping their pets and possessions and the presence of their siblings in the home. Most kids in kinship care report feeling loved and accepted. There are fewer behavioral problems at home and in school.

How do Relatives Become Kinship Caregivers?

That depends upon whether or not they need financial assistance to take on the additional responsibility. Most families who provide this type of care qualify for TANF—Child Only grants. Another resource for these caregivers is through reimbursement from a department of human services as a certified foster home. If they have been appointed by the courts, they will probably have to undergo several background checks. In addition, their homes must meet certain safety standards. They must complete an application to become a kinship caregiver, either certified or uncertified. If they need the reimbursement funds, they must be certified. The requirements and the rate of reimbursement differ by state. In Colorado, according to the cocaf.org website, applicants must pass the background checks, be fingerprinted, undergo a home study and complete 27 hours of core training. Annual certification renewal requires caregivers to take 20 hours of continuing education.

Historically, families cared for aging parents and displaced children. Urbanization and a volatile economy have made this more difficult, but the benefits of keeping children with their families when they must be removed from parental custody are well-documented. Kids can not only survive, but thrive in Kinship Care.