Kinship Care Gets a Boost

With the capable Lead Organizer, Amani Desamours, and her Student Leadership Team handling Thursday’s virtual Student Advocacy Day, I had the privilege of attending the pivotal Children’s Bureau’s National Convening on Kinship Care. This gathering, which drew child welfare administrators and practitioners from across the nation, was a crucial platform for discussing the opportunities and challenges presented by the new, flexible licensing standards issued by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in September 2023. The event was organized in collaboration with Think of Us, a self-described research and design lab dedicated to transforming child welfare.

The day’s discussions centered on transformation as panelists and attendees endeavored to unravel the intricacies of the ACF’s new policies. These policies pertain to the Separate Licensing or Approval Standards for Relative or Kinship Foster Family Homes. After years of debate and advocacy, the child welfare system has embraced the culture of placing children in foster families with their relatives. To do this as the preferred option, rules had to be implemented to bring these families into the licensing regimen and provide needed support. While the consensus is that children are better off in households with kin, adequate protection must be in place to guard against maltreatment and abuse.

The convening leaders included Rebecca Jones Gaston, the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families commissioner at the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). An MSW graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, Gaston oversees the Children’s Bureau and its almost $10 billion budget. Joining her was Aysha E. Schomburg, the associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau. Like many in the room, Schomburg has lived experiences and shared her story of caring for her 2-year-old grand nephew after her younger sister got pregnant. Struggling with childcare and other expenses, the only help she was offered was to file a child support order against the father, which she decided against. During a week in which CRISP highlighted the power of storytelling in social work, hearing the many stories of lived experiences was heart-wrenching and confirming.

Think of Us founder and CEO Sixto Cancel managed the convening as emcee and commentator. His wit and charm were displayed as he kept things moving, conscious of the time while not bruising any egos. He shared stories about his experiences being homeless, couch surfing, and moving from one foster care placement to the next until he eventually connected with family. He then understood how different his life would have been had the system worked harder to find and place him with his kin. He was determined to spare as many kids as possible from his fate. Harnessing the power of media and storytelling, he got the right people’s attention. He told his story in a New York Times op-ed. And his TED Talk on the benefits of placing children with family members has more than 1.2 million views.

The new rule mitigates a longstanding inequity faced by relatives and kin foster care households by allowing child welfare agencies to provide monthly financial support to meet the needs of children these family members didn’t plan and were not prepared to raise. Children in kinship care are disproportionately kids of color, most often poor and living in rural communities. Caregivers did not receive foster care payments because as relatives, they could not satisfy rules created without their needs in mind. Tribal communities had fought and won the right to place children with relatives or culturally appropriate settings. Now, more children will get the opportunity to live with relatives. According to polling by Rob Geen, a Fellow at the Bipartisan Research Center, 90 percent of Americans favor involving family before considering foster care, and 76 percent oppose adoption until all family care options are exhausted. A significant majority (74%) believe neglectful parents can provide safe and nurturing care for their children with adequate support. Three-quarters of reports to child protective service are allegations of neglect: when a caregiver does not provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical, and other factors that impact a child’s safety. The vast majority are related to poverty. The best choice is placing children in households with relatives and kin and providing adequate resources to meet their needs.

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