SD23 - Kinship Care

Executive Summary:
Senate Joint Resolution 208 directed the Commission on Youth to identify legal and financial obstacles to kinship care in Virginia. The resolution identified four issues as a mandate: the role of kinship care in the child welfare system; Virginia policy and practice; other states' experience; and constituents' perceptions. The Commission conducted a literature review of both federal and state policy; created and administered a survey for local agency workers and kinship care participants; assembled an advisory group of those closest to the kinship care experience both in private and public sector; conducted two focus groups of kinship caregivers; and analyzed survey results from the Department of Social Services. All of these actions were taken in an attempt to completely canvas the topic of kinship care.

Kinship care is defined as the full-time care, nurturing, and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child. (*1) There are two widely recognized sub-sections used to define kinship care arrangements: informal kinship care and formal kinship care. The most revealing finding was the difference in the services and financial assistance received between those kinship caregivers in foster kinship care arrangements and those outside the foster care system.

In Virginia there are at least 18 times more children in kinship care arrangements outside the foster care system than within it. Those in the foster care system, called formal kinship care, enjoy the benefits of a monthly foster care payment and support service from the local Department of Social Services. According to a 1994 Department of Social Services' study of kinship care (House Document No. 71), at that time there were 228 children in kinship foster care, in Virginia. In March 2000, there were 532 children in these arrangements, more than double the number in 1994. (*2) The Commission did not have the information to find if that increase is reflected also in the number of children in informal kinship care. Data from the state Department of Social Services shows that there are at least 9,061 who are in informal kinship care arrangements and receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). At the time of this report, the Commission did not have the benefit of the 2000 Census statistics compiled in response to the specifically asked question about "minor kin in the household." The Commission did not attempt to make an estimate about the number of children in kinship care arrangements. However in 1990, the Census reported that 115,489 children were in the care of relatives.

According to 1998 Census data nationally, it is estimated that between 2.5 and 4 million children are raised by kin. In 1998, it was estimated that grandparents led the 2.5 million families raising minor kin. That same year, in 85% of the cases of children raised by single caregiver, the caregiver was a female. (*3) The 1997 National Survey of American Families done by the Urban Institute identified roughly 194,000 children in kinship foster care.

We have seen an explosion in the kinship care population nationally between the late 19805 and the 19905. There are many reasons for this situation including welfare reform, both at the federal and state levels, and the crack-cocaine epidemic.

While kinship care exists in Virginia in the nature of the relationship, it is not codified in Virginia Code, nor in the Department of Social Services (DSS) Policy Manual. However, there are certain sections of the Code that do offer preferential treatment to relatives caring for minor kin, and the DSS Policy Manual does specify that a child has a right to be reared by the parents or, in the absence of parents, by a relative.

According to 2000 survey results, abuse and neglect by the parent is the most prevalent cause for removing a child from their home and place him/her in a kinship care arrangement. Compared with children in foster care, there is a significantly higher percentage of children in informal kinship care arrangements who were reported to have been abused, not protected from abuse, and/or lacking sufficient housing.

Grandparents and aunts make up the largest percentage of kinship caregivers. Clothing, personal items, health services, and childcares were identified as significant needs by most caregivers. Consequently, a majority of the kinship caregivers spent a majority of their money on clothing and personal items.

Counseling was listed as the greatest service needed for a child in kinship care, followed by day care. The survey showed that foster care arrangements have their needs met more frequently than kinship caregivers in non-foster care arrangements. There is no formal support available that recognizes the unique relationship between the kinship caregiver and minor kin. If they meet approval standards, the relative foster caregiver is eligible to receive the same foster care rate as non-relative foster caregivers, if they meet approval standards. Informal kinship caregivers and their minor kin, if eligible, may receive assistance from Social Security, SSI, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and TANF.

The kinship care relationship between the caregiver and the minor kin is unique. Often the caregivers are grandparents unfamiliar with the modern school system and the everyday concerns and issues of the children for whom they are providing care. Many kinship caregivers have a distrust of government systems and/or are must deal with issues unique to their situation; for example, potential conflict within their own families.


Amend the Virginia Code to include the following definition:

Kinship Care - The full-time care, nurturing, and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child.
(*1) Child Welfare League of America. Kinship Care in Child Welfare Fact Sheet. 1999.
(*2) Virginia Department of Social Services. 2000.
(*3) U.S. Census Bureau. March 1998.