Kinship Care, Foster Care & the Child Welfare System

In the child welfare system, kinship care often takes a track much different than traditional foster care. Kinship care policies and practices vary greatly by jurisdiction, and while somewhat guided by federal law and policy, much of them are interpreted at state and county levels regarding issues such as what defines someone as a relative; licensing/certification requirements; training; and supports, financial and otherwise. Varying interpretation of these policies and practices can further obscure the basic value that children have a moral right to be with family. Furthermore, data supports that when compared to traditional foster care, kinship care has the potential to provide better safety, well-being and permanency.

We’ve heard the saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In its simpler sense, it refers to how a child has similar characteristics or qualities to his or her own family. It’s comparable to, “Like father, like son,” or, “Like mother, like daughter.” In child welfare, it is not unusual to hear this saying used as a motive to question the use of kinship care. We believe, however, that the apple’s location is the reason why kinship care works so well. The family is present. It is not only the most immediate resource, but also the best resource. A fallen apple still belongs to the same tree even if it rolls across the orchard.   

Whether its systemic use is formal or informal, kinship care has long been a force driving the foster care system. Relative caregivers are very much relied upon by the child welfare system to maintain balance in regard to child welfare placements. And when a child requires out-of-home care, the most obvious and valuable advantage is found with family. It should be a first, second and continuous consideration for placement that is not abandoned.   

Children in care have already experienced the trauma of being removed from their homes and families. Placing them in the homes of relatives or fictive kin reduces the chance for further trauma, while at the same time maintains their connection to their communities and cultures.