State Policies for Assessing and Supporting Kinship Foster Parents


State Policies for Assessing and Supporting Kinship Foster Parents


This study provides updated information regarding states' kinship care policies. Almost all states give preference to and seek out kin when placing a child in foster care. However, states vary in the way that they assess and support kinship care. Most states assess kin differently than non-kin foster parents. Some kin receive foster care payments while others are supported with lesser payments. This paper analyzes the impacts of the Adoption and Safe Families Act final rule on kinship care and discusses the challenge of creating kinship care policies that both ensure child safety and address the unique needs of kin.

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, focusing primarily on health care, income security, employment and training programs, and social services. Alan Weil is the project director. Researchers monitor program changes and fiscal developments. In collaboration with Child Trends, the project studies changes in family well-being. The project aims to provide 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, available at the Urban Institute's Web site: This paper is one in a series of discussion papers analyzing information from these and other sources. The 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 Rockerfeller 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.

Full Publication


  • Introduction
    • What is Kinship Care?
      How Has Kinship Care Grown?
    • What Are the Roots of the Kinship Care Debate?
    • How Have Federal and State Policies Affected Kinship Care?
    • How is Kinship Care Policy Changing?
  • States' Support for Kinship Care, Preference, and Definitions
    • State Policies on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Kinship Care
    • State Preference for Kin
    • State Definitions of Kin
  • States' Policy Treatment of Kinship Care: Licensing, Payment, and Supervision
    • State Policies Regarding Licensing
    • State Policies Regarding Payment
    • Supervision Provided to Public Kinship Care Families
    • Services Provided to Public Kinship Caregivers
  • Permanency
    • Adoption
    • Guardianship >Long Term Foster Care
  • Conclusion
    • Summary
    • Discussion
  • References
  • About the authors


What Is Kinship Care?

In its broadest sense, kinship care is any living arrangement in which a relative or someone else emotionally close to a child (e.g., friends, neighbors, godparents) takes primary responsibility for rearing that child.1 Most kinship care arrangements are private, in that they occur without any involvement from the child welfare system. This report examines state policies regarding "public kinship care," or those kinship care arrangements in which the child welfare agency is involved.2 This includes instances in which, following an investigation of a report of abuse or neglect, the child welfare agency removes a child from the home and takes custody of that child and places the child in kinship foster care. Public kinship care also includes situations in which the child welfare agency makes contact with a family, and suggests that a child be placed with kin, but does not take the child into state custody. This practice is sometimes called voluntary or non-custodial kinship care.


1. Some states' child welfare agencies define kin narrowly to only include relatives and other states do not use the word "kin" at all and instead refer to the use of relative caregivers. This report uses the term "kinship care" to include state policies that consider only those related by blood, marriage, or adoption to be kin as well as state policies with a broader definition.

2. Traditionally kinship care has been described as either "informal," meaning that such caregiving arrangements occurred without the involvement of a child welfare agency, or "formal," meaning that kin act as foster parents for children in state custody. Unfortunately, the use of the terms "informal" and "formal" to describe the range of kinship care arrangements may be misleading and inaccurate. For example, referring to kinship caregiving outside the purview of the child welfare system as informal may incorrectly imply that such arrangements are short-term or tenuous. Further, neither "informal" nor "formal" accurately describes voluntary kinship care placements in which child welfare agencies help arrange the placement of a child with a relative but do not seek court action to obtain custody of the child.

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