May 28, 1998
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Kinship Care for Children: Basic Facts
Education and Public Welfare Division
What is Kinship Care?
Kinship care is a generic term that is broadly used to include formal and informal
arrangements where children are living with and being raised by relatives, or even close
family friends, who are not their parents. In some cases, the child’s parent may also live
in the home, but is not necessarily the child’s primary caretaker. However, kinship foster
care refers to a more specific practice, in which children who are in state custody are
placed by child welfare agencies into the homes of relatives, rather than in traditional
foster care with strangers. This practice has grown in recent years, and is of ongoing
interest to child welfare policymakers and practitioners.
This fact sheet provides basic information on kinship care, focusing on kinship foster
care, including a description of current federal policy in this area. Readers should note
that information is current as of the report’s date, but the fact sheet will not be updated.
How Many Children Are in Kinship Care?
According to Census Bureau data, almost 5.5 million children under 18 lived in the
homes of grandparents or other relatives as of March 1996 (compared with 4.3 million in
1992). For 2.1 million of these children in 1996, neither their mother nor father was
present in the home. This was true for 1.2 million white children and almost 900,000
black children (including about 400,000 Hispanic children of either race).
When looked at in percentage terms, kinship care is clearly more likely for minority
children. Specifically, of all children under 18 in March 1996, 8% lived in the homes of
relatives who were not their parents, and 3% lived with relatives without their parents
present. However, of white children, 6% lived in the homes of relatives and 2% lived
with relatives without their parents present, while 17% of black children lived with
relatives, and 8% lived with relatives without their parents present. Among Hispanic
children, 11% lived in the homes of relatives and 4% lived with relatives and no parents.
A significant and growing number of foster children are placed with relatives, rather
than in foster care with strangers. According to the Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS), 37% of foster children in September 1996 were living in relative foster
homes, based on reports from 20 states. This figure varied widely, from 2% in Utah and
New Jersey to 52% in Illinois and 50% in Florida. (The total number of children in foster
care in 1996 was an estimated 502,000.) Based on reports from 25 states, the HHS
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Inspector General reported in 1992 that foster children placed with relatives had increased
from 18% of the caseload in 1986 to 31% in 1990.
What is Federal Policy Regarding Kinship Care?
There is no federal “kinship care” program. Informal kinship families may receive
cash assistance under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), if they meet their
state’s eligibility requirements. However, TANF recipients are limited to 5 years of
benefits in a lifetime, and cannot receive benefits for more than 2 years without
participating in work activities, unless they are exempted by their state. Relatives caring
for children under state supervision also may receive TANF benefits, if eligible, or may
receive foster care payments, which are usually higher, depending on various factors.
To receive federally subsidized foster care payments under Title IV-E of the Social
Security Act, caregivers — including relatives — must be licensed, although some states
relax their licensing standards for relatives. Further, the children must have come from
families that would have been eligible for the former Aid to Families with Dependent
Children program (AFDC, predecessor to TANF), under the rules that existed in July
1996. In addition, the state must prepare a written case plan for the child and conduct
judicial and administrative reviews at certain intervals. Relatives caring for children
whose cases are not eligible for federal subsidies may receive state-funded foster care
payments, depending on the policies of the individual state.
Congress amended the Title IV-E foster care program in 1996 to require states to
consider giving preference to adult relatives as foster care providers (P.L. 104-193). In
1997, Congress again amended Title IV-E, to require states to initiate termination of
parental rights procedures for children who have been in foster care beyond a specified
length of time, unless, at state option, the child is in a relative’s care (P.L. 105-89). The
1997 amendments also specified placement with “a fit and willing relative” as one of
several appropriate permanency goals for foster children, and provided that relative
caretakers (as well as other foster or preadoptive parents) must be given notice of case
reviews and hearings and be given an opportunity to be heard in such proceedings. The
1997 amendments also require HHS, with the help of an advisory panel, to develop and
submit a report to Congress on kinship care by June 1, 1999.
Under waiver authority that allows states to design their own child welfare
demonstration projects, if approved by HHS, several states are currently conducting
“subsidized guardianship” demonstrations, in which relatives caring for children who had
previously been in state custody may receive ongoing monthly subsidies, comparable to
foster care or adoption assistance payments, but the children are no longer considered in
foster care. These demonstrations must be evaluated after 5 years.
For Additional Reading
Informal and Formal Kinship Care, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, June 20, 1997.
CRS Report 93-856, “Kinship” Foster Care: An Emerging Federal Issue, by Karen