Relative placements have been shown to reduce the trauma of removal, maintain connections with family and community, and promote placement stability and child well-being. It is federal policy as well as policy in most, if not all, states that relatives are the preferred placement for children removed from home. Actual practice, however, does not always reflect this policy. Accordingly, policy should go further than merely stating a preference for relative caregivers; it should actively remove barriers, create incentives and facilitate such placements.
What the Research Says
Research has shown that, overall, children in foster care experience more stability and better outcomes when they are placed with relative caregivers. Children placed with kin are also more likely to experience fewer placement disruptions and exhibit improved behavior. A research summary is available here.
Recommended Policy Approaches
Some jurisdictions require staff to seek special approval to place children with non-kin, ensuring that they have taken all steps necessary to make the first placement a kinship placement.
Provisional licensing protocols
Children are typically placed with relatives prior to licensure. Once a relative has been located, policy should streamline the necessary approval process, including criminal background checks and home safety inspections and put the relative on a path to full
Removal of licensing barriers
State licensing policy should allow for more flexibility regarding home studies, square footage requirements, number of available bedrooms and bathrooms, certain disqualifying criminal history and training in order to remove impediments to licensure of kin caregivers.
Family-finding at first contact
Policy should require that caseworkers not wait until the child is removed before seeking relatives who could support a family and, if necessary, serve as a placement resource for the child. Rather, relative search should begin when a family is first brought to the attention of the child welfare agency and continue throughout the life of the case until permanency is achieved.
How to Create a Kin First Foster Care System
- Lead with a Kin First Philosophy: Leadership is a key ingredient to creating a kin first culture. Leaders can promote the belief that children belong with family, ensure that resources, tools and training are aligned with the underlying values of a kin first culture, and hold all levels of the agency accountable for prioritizing placement with and connections to kin.
- Develop written policies and protocols that reflect equity for children with kin and recognize their unique circumstances: Well-drafted policies and protocols will streamline the placement process and make it easier to place children with kin.
- Identify and engage kin for kids at every stage: Kin first states are ones that begin identifying a child’s extended family network from the moment the child comes to the attention of the child welfare system.
- Create a sense of urgency for making the first placement a kin placement: Kin first agencies invest necessary resources and align their policies, practices and staff to make the child’s first placement with kin whenever possible.
- Make licensing a priority: Kin first agencies seek to remove all barriers to licensing kin who can provide a safe and stable placement for the child.
- Support permanent families for children: Kin should support the goal of a safe return home, but remain willing to provide a permanent family if that goal cannot be met.
- Create a strong community network to support kin families. Community partnerships can ensure that kin have access to the tailored services and supports they need for the child.
Examples of Existing Policies and Programs
Tennessee Kinship Firewall
Tennessee has a kinship exception request protocol, which requires management-level approval for any non-kin placement when, after a diligent search, relatives who meet agency standards cannot be located or are unavailable.1 Connecticut and Denver County, Colorado have similar policies. Connecticut requires its kinship specialists to use a checklist to ensure that caseworkers have made every attempt to locate maternal and paternal relatives.
District of Columbia Expedited Placement Policy
In 2012, the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) launched the KinFirst strategy to engage and support birth and kinship families. Child protection workers begin engaging parents to identify relatives as potential caregivers while CFSA investigates a concern and arranges a Family Team Meeting. The Kinship Licensing Unit is immediately notified to contact relatives, while the Diligent Search Unit reviews databases to find other relatives. All removal notices must include a list of identified relatives, with comments explaining why they could not be immediate placement resources. When a willing relative is found, CFSA’s goal is to complete the expedited licensing process in four to six hours.
Kin receive a temporary license pending completion of the full licensure process.2 CFSA altered the work schedules of Kinship Licensing, Family Team Meeting and Diligent Search workers to accommodate around-the-clock searches and procedures, making multiple moves of children less likely. CFSA also established an emergency flexible fund to pay for furniture, clothing, food and moving expenses.
Nebraska Statute on Removal of Licensing Barriers
In 2013, Nebraska enacted a statute that calls for new foster family licensing requirements that ensure children’s safety but minimize use of licensing mandates for non-safety issues. The statute requires that licensing rules provide alternatives for non-safety issues regarding housing. The legislation also requires the department to provide assistance to families in overcoming licensing barriers, especially in child-specific relative and kinship placements.3
Pennsylvania Statute on Family Finding at First Contact
In 2013, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted B. 1075, which included a requirement that family finding be conducted for a child when the child is accepted for service and at least annually thereafter. “Accepted for service” is defined as a decision to admit or receive an individual as a client of the county agency or as required by court order.4 Workers are now expected to be fully invested in finding and maintaining children’s important family connections.
Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Definition of Extended Family
Recruitment and retention of relative foster families are key elements of the Port Gamble S’Klallam foster care program. The term “extended family” is defined broadly in policy to include family ties that are based on bloodlines, marriage, friendship and caring. All women in the community become “auntie” or “grandma” when they reach a certain age, regardless of blood relationship. In fact, any member of the tribe who is reliable, responsible, loving and willing to care for a child may be considered extended family. In order to encourage kin to serve as foster parents, the tribe developed a simplified licensure process that provides families with specific, easily understood information accompanied by support services.
1Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Protocol for Kinship Exception Request, Supplemental to DCS Policy 31.9, Conducting Diligent Searches.
2District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency, Policy Title: Temporary Licensing of Foster Homes for Kin.
3Nebraska LB 269 (2013). The Family First Prevention Services Act requires states to report on their efforts to reduce licensing barriers for kin.
4Codified at Pa. Stat., Tit. 62, §1302.1