Nowadays, foster children used to live in unfit families because of different hardships. African American families are the most vulnerable in the United States. The kinship care policy was introduced to support adolescents who cannot live together with their birth parents. Although, kinship care is better solution in comparison with another one, it has many disadvantages. Thus, kinship caregivers experience financial difficulties. The main reason of this is that government does not issue quality policies that regulate funds and offer stipends for kinship caregivers. To overcome these drawbacks, the experts should improve legislation and provide kinship caregivers the same support and services as non-relative families. The African American community requires considering their cultural and ethnical traditions, and admits that people such as godparents, close friends, neighbors, etc. as family members who can care about children. The practice implementation of the kinship care policy is often ineffective and needs considerable changes. Kinship care is cost-effective but it does not provide enough payments for kinship foster caregivers who have low income.
Family preservation is the movement that encourages children to stay in their own dwellings instead of foster homes. A lot of young persons from unfit homes used to leave their poor relatives that experience a lot of hardships. Families that were headed by single mothers receive assistance in order to keep them at home taking care of their children. Public child welfare was introduced to protect minors from neglect, exploitation, and abuse. It also aims to promote children’s health, nutrition, and safety to help them grow strong and positive individuals. Nowadays, many children face up with danger in their families. The government introduces different programs and policies to support them. The last ones provide strategic planning, practice development, evaluation, training, and practice coaching. However they also have both advantages and disadvantages. This study aims to examine the kinship care policy by discussing its purpose, benefits, and practice implementation.
Definition of Kinship Care
Kinship care means the raising of children by others who can or cannot be their relatives. They can be grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Non-relative caregivers include godparents, close friends, neighbors, and some others. Children need kinship care because of different reasons but the main of them is an inability of their birth parents to raise them. Many authorities consider kinship care rather productive one as it provides the possibility to communicate with their caregivers who are more responsible than their parents. As a rule, children who came from the families, where they experienced abuse and violation, fell more comfortable under kinship care. Today, grandfamilies are widely spread in the United States.
Such type of care is significantly cheaper than formal foster care because states do not have enough regulation for this program. However, this arrangement is often rather effective. Children under the kinship care program have a chance to keep in touch with communities where they used to live before, attend the same schools, and increase an ability to reunite with birth parents. This program is cheaper to taxpayers and prevents juveniles from formal foster care. The research asserts that about 2.7 million of African American adolescents are reared by family-members or friends while 104, 000 children are experienced formal custody of kin (Shireman, 2013). Admittedly, a large number of grandparents raise children in very poor conditions, below the poverty level. In the United States, a quarter of children in foster care growing up by their relatives.
Hogan (2013) assumes that caregivers who are in relative relationship with foster children feel responsible for them and prefer to take care of them instead of giving them to non-relative care. However, states offer more money for non-relative caregivers than to relative ones. As a rule, relatives have their own children and they feel shortages to raise foster children. Many of relative caregivers view the situation with kinship care as a temporary one hoping that children can unite with their birth parents in the future.
The Kinship Care Policy
Kinship care is one of the most popular options for foster children. It is implemented for those ones who cannot live with their birth parents because of different reasons. However, the kinship care policy is not perfect and requires improvement. Kahan (2006) suggests that such type of care is defined and viewed as foster one. Children who receive kinship care live in out-of-home placements. Care givers who participate in kinship care can be relative and non-relative. The main question of debating is that non-relative caregivers have privileges over relative ones receiving more financing and services. However, relative and non-relative caregivers should obtain the same licensing.
According to the research, kinship is a temporary program that identifies the definition of relative and kin (Farmer & Moyers, 2008). Each state has its own regulations and funds to support kinship caregivers. Thus, the level of financial support varies from state to state. In common, this program lacks financial supports everywhere. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) established unique regulations for parents and children who were in care. Thus parental rights of those persons whose children were in care for 15 months were terminated. Exceptions to this law involve cases when termination of parental rights was not in the child’s best interests. In the USA, the number of children in kinship is constantly raising and it has become a commonplace in many black environments.
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During the last decades, the number of such minors among the black community has risen tremendously. However, the overwhelming majority of children who lived with relatives stayed outside of the child welfare system. According to the research, among more than two million children raised by relatives, only 20 percent of them received the child welfare support (Fissell & Hakim, 2013). Admittedly, non-relative caregivers receive better compensation than relative ones with a low income. Besides, relatives are oftentimes elderly or single parents.
Research studies report that children who were reared by relatives showed the positive functioning compared to those who live in families with their birth parents who had different problems (i. e. drug addiction, alcohol, and others) (Shireman, 2013). Kinship care has demonstrated higher rates of stability in adopted families than in their own ones. However, kinship caregivers received much low financial support than non-relative families. In diverse cultures, children have experienced different hardships. So, kinship care is one of the most effective solutions to the problem. In many situations, such caregivers are the main resource for children who must be removed from their families. To understand the role of kinship care, it is important to distinguish different circumstances in which children are removed from the families. Finally, it should be mentioned that state and federal kinship care policies are too confusing.
Historical Data of Kinship Care
Historically, kinship care goes back to the old colonial times when children were taken by relatives for raising. The main reason this happened was that their parents were sold as chattel during the slavery period. It is an old African tradition. In Africa, children were used to be raised by elderly relatives informally. Till now, large amounts of African American youths do not live with their birth parents. More than one million of such adolescents are raised by close relatives such as grandmother, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts (Shireman, 2013). Traditionally, these children did not receive the child welfare assistance. After 1986 the situation has been changed as many of them were placed in foster care with kin. It was a result of epidemic of HIV/AIDS and cocaine use.
Child Welfare Act was adopted in 1980 and formed the basis of the federal foster care law. However, it was silent about the relatives who can act as kinship caregivers. Since then, not much has changed. Till now, relatives with kin receive less money for assisting foster children than non-relative caregivers. This is explained by the fact that children can live in their own families and do not need additional placement arrangements.
In the 1990s, most of the African American children in large cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and some others were reared by relatives who became licensed foster parents. State governments, however, gave very limited financial support to kin caregivers. The 1996 welfare reform adopted only one type of welfare payment for kinship care — child-only grants. The reason for this was that children can live with relatives in order to avoid any possible overpayments. However, this reform gives permission to relatives to provide foster children kinship care. Nowadays, this issue is the main topic for discussion among policymakers.
Foster children often experience serious hardships while living in families where parents were HIV/AIDS infected and drug addicted. Due to the kinship care policy, children have improved their life. Research studies reported that children reared by relatives demonstrate the positive functioning in their living (Kahan, 2006). Kinship care gives them stability and protection. Despite the fact that this type of care has a long history, it has been recognized by authorities only at the end of the 20th century. Long before, Africans consider that a village is the best place to raise children. Nowadays, this statement has become child rearing philosophy of African Americans. It is a common practice among these families to live in big communities where relatives closely interact with each other. Their lifestyle differs from white American families where relatives do not communicate so closely.
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Kinship care is the African tradition that has been taking place over the generations. Extended family members are used to provide care for foster children who belong to their community. The kinship care policy is based on the historical and cultural tradition that requires supporting children who cannot live with their parents. It is a valuable source of family preservation, permanency, and reunification for African Americans. According to the research, kinship care develops social, spiritual, and cultural growth of children as well as preserving connectedness of families (Mallon & McCartt, 2013).
Different Forms of Kinship Care
Kahan (2006) noted that kinship foster care has many forms. Private kinship care families are the one type of kinship care forms where family members do not receive any welfare support from the state. The other form of such care includes families who are known to the government but officially they are not a part of the system. Only a small percentage of these families receive support services. The third form of kinship care families are those who care for foster children in state custody. They receive welfare assistance. The types of relatives who can provide such care differ from state to state.
Kinship caregivers can be classified in accordance with their status:
- eligible caregivers;
- licensing caregivers;
- supporting caregivers.
According to the research, twenty-six states out of fifty consider family members those who are related to children by blood. Twenty of them include godparents, close friend, neighbors, and other categories that were in close relationship with a child family. No matter how states interpret kin, they give preference to a child’s relatives.
Licensed caregivers, who are approved by the child welfare agency, have the right for kinship care in state custody. Mallon & McCartt (2013) point out that those persons must obey stringent requirements. At the same time they have the same rights as non-kin foster families. As a rule, caseworkers providing supervision visit these families. Licensed caregivers receive various support services such as foster care payments and respite child care. Some states pay special attention to family support and the safety of a child than on stringent standards. In addition, some states allow foster kinship caregivers to look after children with minimum supervision. Caregivers may receive different amounts of payments in accordance with the state policies. However, the amount of money is the same for both types in majority of states. Regions that do not provide a foster care payment often offer cash welfare grant, which is less than a foster care payment.
Some states offer additional requirements for kinship care. For example, in California, such persons cannot receive a foster care payment if a child is not from a poor family. The local authorities do not take into consideration the family’s own income. Supporting caregivers are the part of family support services that provide assistance to grandparents as well as other relatives who care about children from substance abused and drug-addicted families. Moreover, they offer emotional and psychological assistance to these minors.
The Purpose and Benefits of the Kinship Care Policy
Kinship foster care is a society support service. The purpose of this care is to maintain foster children who cannot live with their parents because of abuse, neglect, poverty, and other reasons. Many studies suggest that kinship caregivers need less supervision and adolescents do not need additional placements as they live in their relatives’ homes. This type of care is cost-effective for the government and many policy makers argue about the necessity to increase funding for this service. The government should not have to pay for restrictive child placements, supervision, and management. The emotional and social state of foster children is much higher in kinship care than other placements. Mallon & McCartt (2013) pointed out that in this case minors receive higher emotional, cultural, social, and other benefits than in other placement arrangements.
One of the main benefits of this care is that young persons can live within their own families and communities. Children feel more secure and stable in a loving environment when they cannot live with their birth parents. As a rule, relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and others treat them with compassion and love. The strength of kinship care is recognized by government and policy makers for many years. Children who live in the familiar environment avoid psychological traumas and stress. The research asserts that other placement arrangements affect youths emotionally and they can experience these traumas in the future life. People who provide kinship foster care give children necessary support. However, the policy makers should increase financial assistance to these families in order to lift them out of poverty.
Kluwer (2014) argues that historically extended family members in African American families always take care of children when their birth parents were unavailable to raise them. However, the state did not always rely on relatives and provide them welfare. During the last decade, the federal legislation approved extended relatives who can be responsible for adolescents at risk. Furthermore, it placed foster children in the families of their loved ones providing kinship foster care. Nowadays, extensive debates concerning child welfare and the ways to support foster children in kin have taken place in the USA.
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Modern Trends in Kinship Care
The African American community has a broad definition of a family. For example, they consider godparents, half-siblings, step-parents, etc. as relatives. Moreover, African American families include people who live in the same household and support children as relatives. For this reason, the states have difficulties with kinship care procedure. The Adoptions and Safe Families Act of 1997 tied to manage problems existed with fostered children. However, child welfare practitioners reported that it brought more challenges than benefits to relative kinship caregivers. In July 2001, this act was modified what allowed relative caregivers to receive licenses according to one strict standard.
Relative and non-relative kinship care givers feel responsible for raising foster children because they believe in family preservation and value the African American community that goes back to the slavery. The research asserts that the kinship care program is one of the most widespread programs in the United States (Shireman, 2013). The number of children under it has grown dramatically over the last decades. Most children who live with kinship care were attributed to homelessness, AIDS, alcohol, drug and child abuse, as well as juvenile delinquency. The nuclear family feels responsible for all this social ills. The purpose of the kinship care policy is to eliminate these problems among African American children.
Kluwer (2014) argues that kinship care has considerable advantages over the other forms of care as minors live in the familiar environment with people whom they know. Evidence suggests that the number of children living with kinship foster care continues to increase during the last decades. Although, there is no defined data of the number of children under kin, the studies assert that many cities in California, New York, and Illinois has demonstrated the large amount of kinship foster care (Mallon & McCartt, 2013). However, many states have faced up with the difficulties while estimating the number of children who live with kin and non-kin foster care because kin meets the same standards as non-kin. Practically all states prefer minors to live with kin caregivers rather than with strangers. Child welfare agencies give preferences to relatives taking care of foster children. The authorities believe that such placements are less traumatic and human.
The Ineffectiveness of the Policy
Many studies reports about the ineffectiveness of the kinship care policy because of the differences between the standards of relative and non-relative kinship caregivers (Geen, 2003). Relatives who provide kinship care to adolescents do not have the same rights as non-relative ones who receive better financing. Moreover, kinship care has similar approach to all foster children. At the same time, different situations need special approach and attention. They should be viewed individually to each child. Due to the ASFA final clarification standards, some states have changed their licensing policies. ASFA does not allow states to assess kin from non-kin differently. Many kinship caregivers alarm for providing the same foster care payments as for non-kin. However, their demand is neglected, and licensure requirements are not met. Children who live in kinship care and their caregivers do not experience positive changes. Nonetheless, children need significant improvement in their safety, physical and mental health.
Thus, given the effectiveness of kinship care, policy makers should focus on developing and implementing policies that further facilitate relatives’ involvement in foster care. Some states experience difficulties with foster care payments. For example, in Alabama the authorities divert foster children from kinship care, and they do not receive payments. Relatives of foster children are not informed about the procedure of receiving payments. The research asserts that kin do not know whether they can receive payments. The government provides payments only for non-relative caregivers. Kahan (2006) assumed that kinship caregivers are not eligible for reimbursement and they have to raise children for their own money. In many states, supervisors and case workers determine the amount of financing through observation of a child.
Kinship foster policies do not consider that foster parents have low income. Moreover, they are usually less educated than non-relative caregivers. So, they face more challenges than other caregivers. They do not receive a fair compensation for their services. As a result, such persons are not able to provide an effective support to foster children. The research asserts that kinship care policy needs further development and better practices (Lindsey & Shlonsky, 2008).The policymakers should concern kinship care difficulties and ineffectiveness in further development of policies and practices.
Potential and Realistic Options for Change in Kinship Care
In order to improve kinship care and improve financing for its services, the authorities must develop effective state and national legislation, practices, and policies. They should also support family-centered services tending to improve the situation. At the same time, it is need for government to provide policies that are focused on supporting foster children, kin caregivers, and birth parents. States must permit agencies to modify standards and avoid adhering to a single standard. Policies should be family-centered directed on the improvement of youths’ well-being. Pitcher (2013) suggests that caregivers that provide kinship services to foster children should have an opportunity to raise children in an appropriate manner (e. g. they should be able to receive financial support in order to maintain children with all needs). Therefore, the existing barriers should be eliminated providing caregivers with government support.
According to the research, children and kinship families do not have the same benefits as non-relative foster families (Geen, 2003). For example, they need such services as health coverage, parenting education, job training, housing support, legal assistance, respite care, and others. At present, the only support source for kinship families is Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds that are poorly financed (Mallon & McCartt, 2013). These funds are temporary and offer less amounts of money than foster care stipends. Kinship caregivers must demand to receive the same foster care stipends as non-relative families. Obviously, all children need the same amount of money for living as other children regardless of whether they live in the families or not. Therefore, kinship families should receive the same stipends as non-relative families.
Social work practice should not only focus on non-relative families. It is needed to consider also that children in kinship families demand the same health insurance, housing, food as children who are raised in non-relative families. Kinship families live in poverty and they cannot afford foster children receiving all necessities needed for their physical and spiritual development. These families should receive quality services and financing that can satisfy their needs and requirements. Geen (2003) assumes that African American families have wider definition than traditional ones, and should include extended family members such as godparents, cohabiting spouses, neighbors, close friends, and others. Traditionally, African American families include fictive kin who are not in fact relatives but they live as a unique community. Most of them are ready to serve as co-guardians, and the authorities should consider this fact. Such families are organized according to their traditions, culture, and experiences. Changing attitudes to them, government can improve policies relating kinship care of foster children.
Thus, in order to enhance the legacy of African American families, the policy makers should do maintain kinship families with resources to raise children, remove differences among relative and non-relative financing, provide relative kinship caregivers the same benefits as non-relative foster families, states should modify licensing standards, and provide the same stipends as for non-relative families.
The main purpose of family preservation is to encourage children to stay in their homes instead of foster ones. Kinship foster care is a good decision for children that cannot live with their birth parents. This is an old African tradition that came into general use in the United States in African American families. Foster children who live with their relatives feel more secure than in other foster community. However, kinship caregivers experience difficulties with a foster welfare payment. Various states have different standards and regulations relating the kinship care policy. Federal and state government should meet the needs and requirements of kinship caregivers who have limited financial abilities to raise children. The study has proved that kinship care is favorable for the government because it is cost-effective. Despite it has got both advantages and disadvantages, it is a perfect decision for foster children from problem families.
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