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Trends in Service Receipt

Children in Kinship Care Gaining Ground

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Document date: April 28, 2006
Released online: April 28, 2006

No. B-68 in Series, "New Federalism: National Survey of America's Families"

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.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


In 2002, 2.3 million children lived with relatives without a parent present in the household. These arrangements, usually referred to as kinship care, may occur for several reasons including child abuse, neglect, or the incapacity or death of a parent. Most children in kinship care (1.8 million) were privately placed with relatives without the involvement of a child welfare agency (private kinship care). A smaller, yet substantial, number (500,000) was placed in the care of a relative following the involvement of a child welfare agency (public kinship care). Although children in public kinship care have been involved with a child welfare agency, it is estimated that less than half these children are taken into state custody by the agency—the children typically thought of as being in "kinship foster care" (Ehrle, Geen, and Main 2003).

Over the past decade, public interest in kinship care has grown. The use of kin as foster care parents increased substantially in the 1990s, and states had to adapt policies to reflect the unique circumstances of these placements. As a result, awareness of the needs and characteristics of kinship families grew in the policy, research, and advocacy communities. Policy changes also heightened interest in kinship care. In 1997, under the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the federal government required states to ensure kinship caregivers were licensed foster parents in order for states to receive reimbursement for foster care payments through Title IV-E. As a result, states experienced an even greater urgency to ensure kin had the services they needed to help them meet licensing requirements.

During the past eight years, researchers have used the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF), a nationally representative survey of households, to gain insight into the health and well-being of children in kinship care. This body of research has sought to uncover how changes in policies and economic times have affected this population. Studies have shown that children in kinship care can face a number of risks to their healthy development, such as living in poverty, living with a caregiver without a high school degree, and living with a single caregiver (Ehrle, Geen, and Clark 2001). Further, these children often have a physical, learning, or mental condition that limits their activities (Kortenkamp and Ehrle 2002). Various federal, state, and local benefits are available to kinship families to help address the challenges they face, but according to research using the NSAF, many kinship families do not use the benefits (Ehrle and Geen 2002).

This brief culminates the work on kinship care using the NSAF. It uses the three rounds of the survey (1997, 1999, and 2002) to examine changes in the standard of living among children in kinship care between 1997 and 2002. Overall, the standard of living for these children improved significantly in this period. The portion of children in kinship care living in poverty steadily declined. Similarly, the portion of children in kinship care who do not have any health insurance is on a downward trend. Both trends are more pronounced for children in public kinship care than children in private kinship care, though both groups' improvements were more dramatic than the gains made by children living with their parents.

Findings in this brief are based on NSAF data from 1997, 1999, and 2002. The survey measures the economic, health, and social characteristics of more than 44,000 households with persons under the age of 65. This analysis used data on children under the age of 18. Children living with their parents are used as a comparison group to offer a base measure of the standard of living for children in the United States. Information on each child was obtained from the adult in the household who was most knowledgeable about the child's health and education—either the parent or the caregiver.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Families and Parenting | Governing | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net


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