Kinship Care: A Vital Part of the Child Welfare Safety Net

Phil redmond

Phil Redmond is the Endowment's Director of Child & Family Well-Being program area.

While in my opinion nothing can take the place of a home and its influences, every effort should be made to safeguard and develop these wards of society” – James B. Duke, founder of The Duke Endowment, writing in 1924 about the need to protect orphans.

For James B. Duke, family was foundational. He spoke about how profound an impact his family had on his upbringing, business career, and ultimately, his philanthropy. Almost a century later, the Endowment remains committed to strengthening families and the role they play in the well-being of children. Our work supports efforts to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect by strengthening home environments and public policy so that parents or caregivers have the resources to care for their children successfully. And when we say families,’ we also mean kinship care.

Tamika Williams

Tamika Williams is the Endowment's Associate Director of Child & Family Well-Being program area.

Kinship care refers to instances when relatives (or non-related adults who share a strong connection to a child) assume primary care responsibilities after parents are unable or unavailable to do so. Some 84,000 children in North Carolina and 74,000 in South Carolina live with kin caregivers. Most kin caregivers are grandparents, aunts or uncles.

September is National Kinship Care Month, and as such, we want to call attention to this little-noticed but increasingly important piece of the child welfare safety net.

Kinship arrangements can be temporary or permanent and range from informal (parents making private agreements) to formal (legal custody, guardianship or adoption). The reasons for placement range from parental stress, mental illness and substance abuse to physical illness, death, military deployment, work demands, or simply the family’s preference. Kinship care supports are particularly important for Black children. By one estimate, one in five Black children will have a kinship care experience. A growing body of promising work shows children in kinship care experience fewer behavioral problems and psychological disorders; can maintain familiar and community bonds, a sense of identity, culture and belonging; and have more placement stability than those in non-familial settings.

The Endowment’s Child and Family Well-Being program area values kinship care in the continuum of family placement options for children. We recognize kin families may need a tailored response to address their unique needs. For example, compared to traditional foster families, kinship caregivers are usually older, more likely to be living below the federal poverty level and to receive less assistance from child welfare agencies. We aim to strengthen and grow kinship care options by better identifying the needs of kinship caregivers and supporting interventions that mitigate their challenges.

Our work has included direct grantmaking to organizations providing kinship care services, supporting the evaluation of navigation models, and testing therapeutic approaches to addressing needs and strengthening the delivery of services. We also participate on statewide workgroups to advance policy and practice across the Carolinas. Our most recent endeavor is a three-part Kinship Care Video Series we developed in partnership with young adults, kinship caregivers, private providers and child welfare directors in North Carolina and South Carolina. The series highlights the incredible youth and families who are/​have experienced kinship care, the providers committed to serving them, and efforts in both states to increase kinship care homes. You will also hear recommendations for better ways we can support kinship caregivers.

Kinship caregivers are increasingly important as both states move to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act, which requires authorities to find new ways to keep children in families, rather than placing them in group settings.

We hope you enjoy the series, talk about it with friends and families, and consider ways that you can advance kinship care efforts. As we observe National Kinship Care Month, let’s do all we can to draw attention and support to this worthwhile placement option for children.

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