Kin-First Recruitment

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Kinship foster homes are key resources in the overall strategy for finding homes that best meet children's needs. When children can't live safely with their parents and are placed into care, child welfare policy prioritizes placement with relatives or someone with a positive prior history with the child. Nationally, 30% of children live in kinship foster homes, with high performing states placing up to 50% of children in care in kinship foster homes (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [AFCARS], 2016.

Research confirms that children do best in kinship foster care. Kinship foster homes help children maintain important family and community connections, offer cultural continuity, lessen the trauma of removal, and improve the likelihood of keeping siblings together.

Placement with kin also leads to greater placement stability, which can have a significant impact on a child's healing from trauma and ability to form attachments. When there are placement moves, this also affects the agency, compounding caseworker workload.

Recruiting kinship foster homes makes sense for an agency's limited recruitment resources: the more relative foster homes an agency certifies, the less strain on an agencies' non-relative foster care pool.

The fewer resources utilized to find non-relative foster homes, the more resources are available to retain and support both kinship and non-kinship foster homes. These are critical components of any comprehensive recruitment and retention plan.

Introduction

Kinship foster homes are key resources in the overall strategy for finding homes that best meet children's needs. When children can't live safely with their parents and are placed into care, child welfare policy prioritizes placement with relatives or someone with a positive prior history with the child. Nationally, 30% of children live in kinship foster homes, with high performing states placing up to 50% of children in care in kinship foster homes (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [AFCARS], 2016.

Research confirms that children do best in kinship foster care. Kinship foster homes help children maintain important family and community connections, offer cultural continuity, lessen the trauma of removal, and improve the likelihood of keeping siblings together.

Placement with kin also leads to greater placement stability, which can have a significant impact on a child's healing from trauma and ability to form attachments. When there are placement moves, this also affects the agency, compounding caseworker workload.

Recruiting kinship foster homes makes sense for an agency's limited recruitment resources: the more relative foster homes an agency certifies, the less strain on an agencies' non-relative foster care pool.

The fewer resources utilized to find non-relative foster homes, the more resources available to retain and support both kinship and non-kinship foster homes. These are critical components of any comprehensive recruitment and retention plan.

Engaging kin

In some areas, the kinship family may be an underutilized or misunderstood resource. The old adage, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," has sometimes been used to justify why grandparents, other relatives, and family friends are not recruited or developed as foster parents. Current practice models focus on the strengths of family networks, recognizing that while some family members may be less functional and less capable of helping other family members, most family networks have members with functional strengths (Hillside Institute for Family Connections, 2014).

Recruiting kinship families involves a slightly different approach than that used in recruiting non-relatives. Kinship families often enter the child welfare system during a family crisis. New York allows relatives of a child to be certified or approved as an emergency foster home if the child is being removed from his/her home by a court order or if the child's case record indicates a compelling reason to place him/her with a relative.

Under these circumstances, safety and risk assessments and home studies are done on an expedited basis. For example, within seven days, the placement agency must submit a Statewide Central Register database form of each person 18 years of age or older in the home [18 NYCRR 443.7]. Models for engaging kinship caregivers include 30 Days to Family and Family Finding.

30 Days to Family operates on the philosophy that all families include members who are willing and able to care for children. 30 Days to Family specialists are expected to be relentless in their search for parents, grandparents, and siblings of children in care. The goal is to place 70% of children served with safe and appropriate relatives within 30 days of entering foster care. (Practice Models: 30 Days to Family)

Family Finding is based on the core belief that capable family members can be located and engaged to meet the needs of youth in care. Originally designed for older youth who have spent many years in foster care, Family Finding offers methods for discovering and engaging relatives to meet youths' needs for relational and/or legal permanency and help them build a "lifetime network." (Practice Models: Family Finding)

If the child is being placed with urgency, kinship families may need supports from the agency to complete their home study and a personalized orientation session focusing on their immediate needs (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). Recruiting kinship homes can also be a planful undertaking. Children who cannot be reunited with their birth parents need permanent homes, and kin may be explored as permanency resources. This also can include non-related "fictive kin" who have a significant relationship with the child, such as godparents or family friends.

In New York State, relatives are engaged to care for children through a variety of arrangements: informal care, custody/guardianship, direct placement, kinship foster care, and adoption. These different types of arrangements have an impact on the supports and benefits kinship caregivers may be eligible to receive. It is critical that kin fully understand their options to make informed decisions in the best interest of the child and family, as well as in consideration of the financial implications of those decisions. Agency staff should be prepared to clearly explain the full range of options to prospective kinship caregiver families, and to expedite approval processes. One of these options, formal kinship foster care, which provides a higher level of financial support than informal care, currently is underutilized in many counties in New York State (Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, 2018).

(For more information, see Appendix 3-1: Kinship Chart.)

Staff specialize in kinship placements

In Suffolk County, kinship placements are a priority. The county LDSS has a dedicated worker that handles kinship applications and a team that expedites approvals of kinship families.

Suffolk LDSS Supervisor Brian Kennedy states, "In our county we see placement in traditional foster care as a last resort. If we are placing a child in traditional foster care it is because we have failed to stabilize the biological family and failed to find family and/or friends that can care for the child."

If placement with kin is not possible, a kin-first philosophy recognizes that relatives or kin may have important relationships with the child that should be nurtured. Connections to kin help build a young person's sense of identity and provide access to important practical and emotional supports, such as a place to celebrate holidays, a listening ear, financial support, and guidance from a caring adult.

Older youth who have been in foster care for a long time may benefit from reestablishing connections with appropriate relatives for emotional or legal permanency. Internet-based search tools can be used to locate extended family members who might be willing to provide foster care to a child. A variety of child-focused recruitment models, some of which are described in Chapter 5, have developed systematic techniques to find and engage kin.

Kin-specific recruitment

Kin-specific recruitment means exploring kinship homes first.

A kin-specific approach includes prioritizing the certification of kinship families. It also means engaging the biological parents to assess family connections and researching other supportive people in the life of the child such as teachers, coaches, and close family friends.

Kin-focused recruitment uses intensive, family-friendly tailored techniques to create permanency for youth. Case file mining and involving older youth in recruitment are key strategies.

Breaking down barriers

Despite the increasing value of placing children with kin, major barriers still exist. There is widespread consensus that agencies must have these key principles in place in order to move this work forward:

From WikiHow for Kinship Foster Care.

Commitment to kin

Starting with the belief that children have better outcomes and achieve permanency quicker when placed with kin, Onondaga County LDSS is increasing the number of children placed in kinship foster care. Onondaga County is bringing urgency to placing children with kin, with a focus on finding fathers and offering immediate supports to kin. At the moment of removal, Onondaga's "Triage Team" builds a bridge between the removing CPS worker and the permanency worker with the goal of meeting the needs of the birth family and kinship caregiver. While monetary support is important (Onondaga has a fund set aside to support kin), oftentimes services and getting answers to questions is the most important support for caregivers.

"We are aware that this whole effort of bringing more kinship families into this process is about trust," said Onondaga LDSS Deputy Commissioner James Czarniak. "We have to earn the trust of a community that does not trust us. We have to gain the trust of the staff that are approaching this work through a new lens. Lastly, we have to be diligent and honest about the challenges that kinship families face in this process and seek to support them through those challenges."

Streamlining connections with kin

Prioritizing kin is "embedded in our process," according to Elizabeth Myers, Director of Social Services for Tioga County. The "kin first" culture in the county created the expectation that children need to stay with family, and led to the development of tools to guide workers on the "who, what, and when" of engaging relatives in child welfare cases.

Prioritizing kinship foster care has been facilitated by streamlining the approval process and developing a protocol to support homefinders in approving relatives as foster parents on an emergency basis. If relatives are interested in fostering, homefinders connect with them within a day.

"Our ability to meet with people face-to-face has worked best," said Myers. Tioga caseworkers encourage prospective foster parents to be honest about their fears and concerns about becoming foster parents.

The county also has stepped up its exploration of fictive kin. "We had one case of a teenage girl with some serious mental health issues," Ms. Myers said. "She was very connected to her teacher, and we were able to emergency certify the teacher and her husband. They were not giving up on her."

As part of normal practice, kin resources are identified early during a CPS investigation with CPS workers asking children whom they can rely upon.

"Everyone is responsible," Ms. Meyer said. "If children do have to be removed, the initial engagement of families helps to have options in place and keep children connected to kin."

As in many counties, cases involving substance use disorder have put more demands on the system. In Tioga, parents abusing methamphetamines or who are cross-addicted have been a higher percentage of the caseload than those abusing opioids. Substance use disorder cases can present additional challenges in family dynamics. Ms. Myers indicated the county has had some successes: grandparents have come forward and said they want to be the resource for their grandchild, but they don't want to be the ones responsible for telling their own children what they can and cannot do. In these cases, the caregivers welcome the county's involvement in steering the case plan.

Marketing campaign for CPS staff

In an effort to increase kinship placements, the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) created an internal marketing campaign for child protective services (CPS) workers. CPS workers are the first agency staff who must seek family and friends when children cannot stay safely at home. The Find Family and Friends First campaign, uses posters to communicate the message with photos and quotes (this is one poster example) and to remind workers that caregivers may include godparents, friends of the family, or community members who have significant and positive relationships with the child in addition to maternal or paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“Placing children with kin makes sense on so many levels. Children never have to spend a night with a stranger, and kinship placement:

  • Keeps children connected to family and community
  • Improves emotional health and overall being
  • Increases placement stability
  • Reduces trauma”

(The content above is from NYC ACS Find Family and Friends First 2017 campaign.)

ACS also provides a guide for workers, the Kinship Care Myths and Facts Sheet, based on policy, best practices, and tips from child protective colleagues.

New York State's Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP)

York State Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP) provides financial support to kin caregivers (see expanded definition of kin below) that some of the other options do not. While not all relatives desire to be kinship foster parents, agency staff should be prepared to clearly explain the full range of options to prospective kinship caregiver families, and to expedite approval processes.

Kinship caregivers who serve as foster parents for a child for six months may be eligible for New York's Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP). The program is designed to allow a foster child to achieve a permanent placement with a kinship guardian. It provides financial support and, in most cases, medical coverage for the child, beginning with the child's discharge from foster care to kinship guardianship. The level of financial support is similar to the maintenance payments received while the child was in foster care. Parental rights do not have to be terminated for the relative to assume guardianship of the child (OCFS, 2018a).

In 2018, the definition of a "prospective relative guardian" was expanded to include an adult with a positive relationship with the child including, but not limited to, step-parent, godparent, neighbor or family friend; and an individual who is related to a half-sibling of the child through blood, marriage, or adoption, and where such person is also the prospective or appointed relative guardian of such half-sibling.

In addition, KinGAP payments may now be made to the kin guardian until a child's 18th birthday if the child entered a KinGAP agreement prior to age 16, or, upon consent of the child, until the child attains 21 years of age if certain criteria are met (OCFS, 2018b).

Relatives caring for children through arrangements other than foster care or KinGAP may be still eligible for a cash grant through Temporary Assistance (TA). Local districts or agencies may also refer to TA as the non-parent caregiver grant.

Detailed information about the options for kinship caregivers is available at New York State's information and referral service, Kinship Navigator (www.nysnavigator.org) and OCFS' website (ocfs.ny.gov/programs/kinship/).

Put It Into Practice

Lessons learned in Tioga County

Practical tips to prioritize kin in Orange County

Supervisor Deb Pesola from Orange County shared these practical steps to complement and invigorate your current kinship process.

Additional resources

Practice Models

Appendices

References

This project is funded by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under a Cooperative Agreement, Grant Number 90CO-1109. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Children's Bureau
NYS Office of Children and Family Services
Welfare Research, Inc.