Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #8: Parity for Kinship Foster Caregivers

Cortney Jones, 33, a graduate of the Texas State University-San Marcos School of Social Work. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 10 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Cortney Jones, 33, a graduate of the Texas State University-San Marcos School of Social Work.

The Proposal

Jones’ proposals center on building the federal guarantee of support for kinship caregivers. She calls on Congress to permit the use of Title IV-E foster care dollars to fund kinship care; requiring states to include in their federal funding plan how they intend to connect kinship caregivers to available resources; and including more money for legal aid in the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

The Argument

Jones argues that despite the more recent emphasis on the importance of kin, “our current foster care system was not designed with kinship caregivers in mind.” The development of kinship navigator programs, one-stop shops designed to connect relatives with benefits and supports they are eligible for, is one way to help bridge the gap. But as Jones points out, citing research from Generations United, there are only 71 navigator systems running today.

In Her Own Words

“After four years in the foster care [system], I was reunified with my grandmother in a formal kinship setting. … Because she did not have enough support to care for me, my grandmother made the hard decision to place me back in the foster care system.

As a result of not having the services and supports … “to help my family succeed, I spent 10 years in the foster care system and aged out when I was 18 years old.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Jones’ first proposal is that the federal Title IV-E entitlement pay for kinship caregivers on par with non-relative foster parents. That is actually already the case: IV-E dollars flow to any foster home, relative or non-relative, that is licensed and caring for a child who is IV-E eligible (click here to read more about that).

Tools for Transformation, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

It is at the state or county level, in some cases, where agencies make a distinction in how much they pay kinship caregivers. That might not be the case for long, though. In 2017, as a result of a Kentucky court case, most of the Midwestern states must pay licensed relatives an amount equal to that of non-relatives.

This case could one day lead to a nationwide requirement that foster care payments are equal. Or, Congress could nip that in the bud by requiring that states provide equal support to any licensed caregiver with a Title IV-E-eligible child, whether it’s the child’s grandmother or a stranger.

But none of that addresses the issue of what some call “shadow” foster care, the informal placement of children with relatives that do not become licensed foster parents. Many of these kin receive little or no financial assistance for stepping up. The idea of kinship navigator programs is to help link those families with other potential forms of assistance: Medicaid, food stamps, legal help, counseling and other supports.

The Family First Prevention Services Act, which became law in February, sets up a potential expansion of the navigator model around the country. The law guarantees a 50-50 match for the cost of any kinship navigator program.

There’s a catch, though. The match only applies for kinship navigators that are deemed to be “evidence-based,” meaning it has shown through independent studies that it is having an impact. As Jerry Milner (one of the Trump Administration’s top child welfare officials) made clear at a hearing this summer, it is not clear if any existing model would currently meet the threshold. So there is a great need for further evaluation of the current programs to determine which ones are candidates for the new funds.

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