Kinship Care (Glossary)

Kinship Care: The full-time care and nurturing of a child by someone who is related to the child by family ties or by a significant prior relationship connection.

When parents are unable to care for their children and those children then are placed in the care of extended family or others with whom they share an emotional bond, it is called kinship care. Such arrangements have been carried out informally for hundreds of years. In the past 10 to 20 years, child welfare agencies have come to rely more and more on kinship care to provide homes for children in need. When kinship care occurs without the involvement of a child welfare agency, it is considered private. When a child welfare agency is involved, it is public kinship care. Traditional foster care is generally non-kin care.

Whether private or public, kinship care is on the rise. In 1998, approximately 2.13 million children in the United States lived in kinship care. One study found that 29 percent of all foster children were in public kinship care. Why such large numbers? The need for foster caregivers has grown tremendously, and child welfare agencies have become much more open to using kin as foster parents. In addition, there have been a number of federal and state court rulings that recognize both the right of relatives to act as foster parents and their right to receive financial compensation for providing such care.

Children in public kinship care are more likely than those in non-kin care to have been the victims of abuse or neglect. The parents of children in public kinship care are more likely to be young, never married, and to have a drug and/or alcohol problem. Public kinship caregivers tend to request and receive fewer services for themselves and the children in their care.

One of the most important differences in care is that children in public kinship care maintain closer ties with their biological parents and siblings than those in non-kin care. There are more visits, calls, letters and gifts exchanged between parent and child in kinship care. While this may pose a safety concern, in general it is better for the child to stay close to biological parents.

Children in public kinship care are less likely to have multiple placements, yet tend to remain in out-of-home placement longer. They are less likely to be reunited with their parents and more likely to remain in the care of a relative. With kinship care on the rise, further study is needed to determine how to make it work best for all concerned.