Assessing the New Federalism Discussion Paper No. 02-11
Note: The PDF Version includes all charts and tables.
Assessing the New Federalism is a multiyear Urban Institute project designed to analyze the devolution of responsibility for social programs from the federal government to the states. It focuses primarily on health care, income security, employment and training programs, and social services. Researchers monitor program changes and fiscal developments. Alan Weil is the project director. In collaboration with Child Trends, the project studies changes in family well-being. The project provides timely, nonpartisan information to inform public debate and to help state and local decisionmakers carry out their new responsibilities more effectively.
Key components of the project include a household survey, studies of policies in 13 states, and a database with information on all states and the District of Columbia. Publications and database are available free of charge on the Urban Institute's web site: http://www.urban.org. This paper is one in a series of discussion papers analyzing information from these and other sources.
The Assessing the New Federalism project has received funding from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, the Stuart Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, The Fund for New Jersey, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and The Rockefeller Foundation.
The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.
The Kinship Care Population
Kinship Care Policy Context
Definition of Kin
TANF Definitions of Kin
Kin Involved with the Foster Care System
Waived or Modified Standard
Separate Approval Process
Changes in Stringency
Payment of Kin
Proportion of Kin Assessed by Each Option
Long-term Foster Care
Flexibility of Kin Policies
The Needs of Kin
Aligning Policy with Practice
About the Authors
This paper reports the findings of a 2001 survey of state kinship foster care policies. The survey, a follow-up to surveys the Urban Institute conducted in 1997 and 1999, sought to assess changes in states kinship foster care policies since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a final rule to guide state implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in January 2000. A follow-up survey was necessary as kinship foster care policy is continually evolving at both the federal and state level, potentially affecting millions of foster children who are in the care of kin.
The Kinship Care Population
In 1999, 2.3 million children, or 90 percent of children not living with their parents, lived with relatives, according to the 1999 National Survey of America's Families (NSAF). The vast majority (1.8 million) of these placements were private, without child welfare involvement. Data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) from 49 states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) that were able to provide data, show that in 1999 kin were caring for 151,864 children in foster care, 26 percent of all foster care children (US DHHS 2001b).
Many kinship care families face a variety of challenges. Kinship care children, whether or not they have been abused or neglected, are dealing with the emotional trauma of being separated from their parents. Research suggests that living with a relative may minimize the trauma by providing a sense of family support (Dubowitz et al. 1994). However, children in kinship care often live in families experiencing financial hardship, crowding, or trouble paying housing costs (Ehrle and Geen 2002). Kinship caregivers tend to be older than non-kin foster parents, face health challenges, and report high aggravation (Ehrle and Geen 2002).
Despite these challenges, many children living in kinship care do not receive the services they need. All kin who meet the state TANF definition of a relative are eligible for a child-only payment to help support the child. In addition, kin caring for a child in state custody are eligible for a foster care payment if the appropriate assessment standards are met. However, about a quarter of all children in kinship care live in families that receive either a child-only grant or foster care payment (Ehrle and Geen 2002). Other services kinship care families may not be receiving include Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance, and child care.
Kinship Care Policy Context
Children whose parents are unable to care for them often rely upon relatives or family friends to do so a practice commonly referred to as kinship care. Many of these situations are privately arranged between parent and kin, without any contact from a child welfare agency. In the 1980s, child welfare agencies began to turn to kinship caregivers to act as foster parents for abused or neglected children. We refer to these placements as kinship foster care, and the policies addressing these placements are the subject of this report.
Although state use of kinship care increased rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s, the federal government and state legislatures have had a difficult time responding to this phenomenon. Many questions still remain about how to use kin most effectively and to what extent they should be treated differently than non-kin foster parents. Debate continues on how kin who act as foster parents should be financially assisted, assessed as caregivers, and how child welfare agencies should approach permanency planning when children are placed with kin.
For the most part, federal financial support for the kin population stems from child welfare and income assistance policies. A 1950 Social Security Act amendment offered eligible relative caregivers financial assistance for children in their care through the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program.1 They could apply to receive welfare benefits as a family unit if they themselves were poor, or they could apply and receive payment for only the related child regardless of their income (a child-only grant). When the Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) program was replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, states were given the option to continue providing child-only grants for non-needy relatives. All states except Wisconsin have continued this benefit.2
Most kin who acted as foster parents initially received financial assistance through AFDC. However, in 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court found in Miller v. Youakim that states must make the same foster care maintenance payments to kin caring for title IV-E-eligible children (those eligible for federal reimbursement under title IV-E of the Social Security Act) as they make to non-kin foster parents, provided that kin meet the state foster care licensing standards. States were left with the decision of how to assist kin caring for non-IV-E-eligible children and those who do not meet certain licensing requirements.
There is an ongoing debate about how child welfare agencies should financially assist kin and how kin should be assessed. Some argue that kin have a familial responsibility for the related child and should not be paid (Kinship Care Advisory Panel 1998). Others contend that foster care payment rates (usually higher than TANF child-only grants) provide an incentive for private kinship caregivers to become part of the child welfare system (Berrick, Minkler, and Needell 1999; Johnson 1994). Yet, others argue that it is the government's responsibility to support these children, regardless of who is caring for them (Geen 2000; Geen and Berrick 2002).
While each state sets its own foster care licensing standards, the federal government provides financial reimbursement to states to cover certain costs associated with foster care placements. There are certain minimum procedural guidelines that states must meet to receive financial reimbursement. In 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) that clarified conditions under which the federal government would provide financial reimbursement. The Act, and the ASFA Final Rule of January 2000 that documented how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would implement the Act, included a number of provisions that affected or clarified the federal reimbursement of foster care payments made to children placed with kin. States may not collect federal reimbursement for all kin caring for IV-E eligible children. Instead, "relatives must meet the same licensing/approval standards as nonrelative foster family homes." Waivers for certain licensing standards may only be issued on a case-by-case basis, not for kin as a group. No waivers can be granted for safety issues. In addition, the final rule prohibits states from claiming IV-E reimbursement for provisionally licensed or emergency placement kin homes.
While the federal government will not reimburse states for foster care payments made to kin who are not licensed the same as nonrelative foster homes, neither ASFA nor the Final Rule prohibits states from assessing kin differently than non-kin. Some argue that kinship care is a unique situation and should not be held to the same standards as non-kin placements. Traditional foster care requirements, especially those not related to safety, may be irrelevant in a kinship care placement. The potential benefits of living with a family member or close family friend may outweigh the need for non-safety requirements such as space requirements. However, safety is the most important concern to child welfare agencies, which may be reluctant to waive requirements or hold kin to less stringent standards than non-kin foster parents.
ASFA also clarified federal policy related to permanency planning, allowing states to make exceptions for kin. While ASFA specifically disallows long-term foster care and imposes tough new standards for termination of parental rights for children placed with nonrelatives, ASFA indicates that a "fit and willing relative" can provide a "planned permanent living arrangement," and the termination of parental rights does not have to occur within the allotted time frame if, "at the option of the State, the child is being cared for by a relative."
There are conflicting views on how to treat permanency planning for children placed with kin. Conventional wisdom, supported by some past research, has held that kin are unwilling to adopt their related children (Gleeson 1999; Thornton 1991). More recent research, however, suggests that kin can and will adopt if they are provided accurate information and they are reassured about ongoing payments (Testa 2001; Testa et al. 1996). Still many kinship advocates question whether adoption is necessary for children in kinship care to feel a sense of permanency. Because adoption has been an area of significant controversy for children placed with kin, many states began to experiment with subsidized guardianship programs, programs that provide ongoing financial support to kin who accept permanent legal guardianship of related children instead of adopting them. However, whereas the federal government provides reimbursement for adoption subsidies under title IV-E, guardianship is not typically subsidized in general, and payments are not reimbursable under title IV-E.3
In April 2001, we mailed the kinship survey to each state child welfare director. Attempts were made to maintain consistency between the 1999 and 2001 surveys, although some new questions were added based on information learned in 1999. Comparisons between the two years are made whenever they are significant, and analysis of how state policy relates to the ASFA final rule is included. The survey was also available online, and each state contact was given a user identification and password to enter data and make changes as necessary. Urban Institute staff conducted extensive phone, facsimile, and e-mail follow-up with each state to ensure the proper interpretation of their data. We received survey responses from all 50 states and the District of Columbia; 22 states completed the survey online. The data presented in this paper were sent back to the state child welfare director for final confirmation. For the purposes of this survey, the District of Columbia is counted as a state, therefore making the state total 51. This report presents a summary and analysis of state responses to the survey.
This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which many find convenient when printing.
1. The Aid to Dependant Children (ADC) program was renamed Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) program in the 1960s.
2. In Wisconsin, the child must be at risk of harm if living with biological parents in order for the relative caregiver to be eligible for a TANF child-only payment.
3. The federal government has issued waivers to several states allowing them to seek title IV-E reimbursement for guardianship subsidies.
Funding was received from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to conduct the survey. Additional funding was received from the Assessing the New Federalism project for publication and dissemination.
The authors are most appreciative to the state staff members who completed the survey and spent a great deal of time explaining their state data to ensure proper interpretation.
The authors thank the following researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and advocates for their suggestions and comments on the design of the survey: Melissa Baker, Margo Coleman, Laura Feig Radel, Kathy McHugh, Mary Bissell, Fred Wulczyn, Steve Christian, Kate Karpilow, Don Winstead, John Pickle, Jacqueline Sinnett, Jill Duerr Berrick, and Carol Kelly. We also thank the following researchers and Urban Institute staff for their thoughtful comments on early drafts of the report: Mary Bissell, Mary Lee Allen, Laura Feig Radel, Matt Stagner, and Alan Weil. Finally, the authors greatly appreciate the work of Matt Buettgens in developing and maintaining the web-based survey.