As the number and proportion of children in out-of-home care placed in the homes of relatives continue to grow, child welfare agencies have been making efforts to ensure that children are placed with relatives. The benefits of family care are recognized and are among the forces that have led to a growing use of kinship care. (Child Welfare League of America, January/February 1995)
1. What is kinship care?
Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions such as California, non-relative extended family members (NREFMs – often referred to as “fictive kin”). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children's connections with their families. “Informal kinship care” commonly refers to relatives raising children who are not in the foster care system.
"Relative" means an adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption, or affinity within the fifth degree of kinship, including stepparents, step siblings, and all relatives whose status is preceded by the words "great," "great-great," or "grand," or the spouse of any of these persons, even if the marriage was terminated by death or dissolution. However, only the following relatives shall be given preferential consideration for the placement of the child: an adult who is a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling.
A "nonrelative extended family member" (NREFM) is defined as an adult caregiver who has an established familial relationship with a relative of the child or a familial or mentoring relationship with the child. The county welfare department verifies the existence of a relationship through interviews with the parent and child or with one or more third parties. The parties may include relatives of the child, teachers, medical professionals, clergy, neighbors, and family friends.
2. What are the laws regarding kinship care?
- If a child is removed from his or her parent(s), the social worker must conduct, within 30 days, an investigation in order to identify and locate all grandparents, parents of a sibling of the child, if the parent has legal custody of the sibling, adult siblings, and other adult relatives of the child, including any other adult relatives suggested by the parents.”
- Counties must provide all located relatives with written and oral notification unless notification is inappropriate due to the relative’s history of family or domestic violence.
- The court shall order the parent to disclose to the social worker the names, residences, and any known identifying information of any maternal or paternal relatives of the child.
- The county social worker and court must give preferential consideration to certain relatives (grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling).
- The social worker will assess any relatives that request to be considered for placement. However, assessment and approval does not guarantee placement of the child.
- Placement is separate from the assessment and approval of a relative or NREFM home. After approval, social workers and courts must consider specific factors when assessing a relative to determine whether or not the relative is the best placement option for the child.
3. Is financial assistance available to help a relative care for a dependent child?
A relative or NREFM who is caring for a dependent child is eligible to receive a monthly foster care maintenance payment whether the child is federally eligible or ineligible. This payment is currently about $688 to $859 per month, depending on the age of the child. These payments are used to offset the costs of providing the child with food, clothing, extracurricular activities, and other necessities.
A relative who is caring for a child who is not a dependent of the juvenile court is ineligible to receive foster care payments. Relatives may apply for the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) Non-Needy Caretaker Fund for relatives, which is a non-income based payment available in each county. This payment currently is at a maximum of $387 or $369 per month per child, based on the region, and is adjusted based on numerous factors when there are two or more children. These amounts may change annually. A non-relative extended family member (NREFM) who is caring for a non-dependent child would not be eligible to receive the CalWORKs payment.
4. What is the Kinship Support Services Program, and are the services available in my county?
It’s a common practice: relatives step forward to offer their homes, their time, their food, their love to grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other kin whose parents can no longer care for them. It happens in all cultures and in all locales–big cities, rural towns, and suburban communities. Relatives taking care of their kin face numerous challenges: the relative may be aged, in poor health, socially isolated or emotionally unprepared to assume the responsibility for young children, despite how much they love them. The children, often abused or neglected, may have physical or behavior problems that require professional help as well as the nurturing attention of the relative caregiver.
California’s Kinship Support Services Program (KSSP) is aimed at helping relatives do the best job they can in raising these children, so the family can remain together. The program allocates funds to create these services in many communities throughout the state. Services provided by these programs can include: support groups, respite, information and referral, recreation, mentoring/tutoring, provision of furniture, clothing, and food, transportation, legal assistance, and many other support services needed by kin families.
Twenty counties previously received grants for the continuation of existing Kinship Support Services Programs (KSSP). State law limited the eligibility for state funds to start a KSSP to those counties that had 40% or more of their dependent children (those in the custody of the child welfare agency) living with relatives. The KSSP programs provide non-financial community-based family support services to relative caregivers and the dependent children placed in their homes by the juvenile court. These programs also provide various types of non-financial support to those relative caregivers and children who are at risk of dependency or delinquency but are not dependents of the juvenile court. The KSSP will also provide post permanency services to relative caregivers who have become the legal guardian or adoptive parent of formerly dependent children. However, due to the realignment of fiscal responsibility resulting from the Budget Act of 2011, some of these counties’ KSSP programs may no longer offer these support services.
Go to the Kinship Support Services page for more information or the Kinship Support Services Program list of counties providing these services.