Kinship Care: The Hidden Heroes of Child Welfare

Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or close family friends. There are two main aspects of kinship care. “Relative kinship” care refers to the child being cared for by a relative. However, the term “kin” encompasses this and “fictive kinship”, which refers to all non-relatives.  

This kind of kinship care can come from a variety of trusted figures in the child’s life: an aunt by marriage, godparent(s), a neighbor, or teacher. In some cases, a kinship placement could even be with a person who has a close relationship with the child or child’s family.  

One main reason for the variety of placement opportunities is that the overarching goal is to keep children within their family trees, thus keeping families connected, and eventually reuniting them with their biological parents. While every child in foster care has their own journey, there are many benefits for children who are placed with kin.  

The Coalition’s 30 Days to Family® team facilitates many kinship placements through a process called family finding. Team Director Shonetta Reed says that kinship is more about the child’s relationships than who is next in their bloodline. Kinship placements are generally more beneficial for children long term, compared to the child being placed with a non-kinship family, or the “traditional” foster care placement. A child not placed with relatives or kin faces the possibility of multiple moves, whereas children placed with kin can more easily establish a sense of permanency.  

When children are successfully placed with kin, they are more likely to be reunited with their families. These children also have a higher chance of remaining within their social circles, support networks, and cultural environments because it’s plausible that the kinship placement is near the child’s initial home, and that the kin relative/non-relative is familiar with the child’s family context. Reed says the family context involves the child’s culture, which is a huge factor that must be taken into consideration. Even very young children have an established idea of their culture, their regularities, where they come from, and where they have a sense of belonging. Reed also highlights the fear factor when a child is placed in a foster home with no prior knowledge of the family they now live with. “We as adults are scared to go into the unknown – but imagine as a child, being literally dropped off in the unknown?” says Reed. 

While the Coalition has several programs and supports in place for a child needing kinship placement, there can be many barriers to obtaining these placements. Perhaps most expected is the legal system. Before a child can be placed with a relative, the team connected to the case (caseworkers, advocates, family members, etc.) must agree on the placement. Depending on how many individuals are involved, disagreements can arise. This can be regarding a family member’s feelings toward a kinship relative seeking placement of the child or even the child’s feelings toward the kinship relative in question. Kinship placements tend to be more emotionally intricate due to the difficulties associated with enforcing child welfare rules amongst kin, especially regarding the child’s contact with their parent(s). That complexity is also a strength; friends, neighbors, and extended family often also have existing relationships with these children, and that often leads to a wider community of support for the caregivers. While all potential foster parents must complete training and licensure, placing a child with kin can be much quicker, with agreement from the team working on the case. 

Both kinship caregivers and foster parents must receive some sort of license. However, while traditional foster parent licensing can take up to six months, kinship relative licensing usually takes around 90 days. It’s also preferred by the courts and teams involved that families become licensed rather than obtaining court-ordered placement. Additionally, the kinship licensing process is valid only for the child/children involved in the case, whereas licensed foster parents are approved to care for a diverse group of children who may enter their homes. The key difference between licensing kin relatives and foster parents is the length of class time. Relatives take a one-day, nine-hour STARS (Specialized Training Assessment Resources and Support) course while traditional families require 27 hours of STARS. 

Despite the shorter turnaround process, the Coalition and other agencies have several systems in place to access a child’s relatives and non-relatives to continuously assess which placement will be most beneficial for the family. There is a placement hierarchy to delineate the most ideal locations for children to be placed if not with their biological parents. Of course, this hierarchy consists of relatives and non-relatives. To show how far child advocates will go, Reed says even a sports coach or the parents of the child’s friend would be worth contacting if necessary. 

Kinship is just one among many factors when assessing the most beneficial placement for a child. “It takes a village” refers to the all-hands-on-deck mentality when supporting and raising children. This is arguably more prevalent with children in the foster care system. The Coalition and organizations alike dedicate their resources and time to making sure all areas of kinship placement are as seamless as possible for the child and their family members, from relocation to reunification. This kind of teamwork, empathy, initiative, and dedication can make a huge impact on a child’s life. Every child has their own journey; they trust and rely on us as adults to guide them. Children flourish when they are with their families, enveloped in their own culture, and connected to what makes them feel a sense of belonging and autonomy. Throughout the kinship process, it’s important to uphold the overarching goals of all child advocates: protect the safety and well-being of children, while fostering an environment full of compassion, strength, and determination to reunite children with their families. 

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