RD101 - Definition of Kinship Caregivers

Executive Summary:
Kinship care, as set forth in § 63.2-100 of the Code of Virginia, is defined as the full-time care, nurturing, and protection of a child by relatives. The term kin is often used interchangeably with relative. The way states define relative for purposes of kinship care is important because it influences placement, access to information, and eligibility for program benefits.

Kinship care is the least restrictive and most family-like setting for children requiring out-of-home placement. Research has shown that children living with relatives in kinship care placements generally have a greater likelihood of being successful and not experiencing negative outcomes (e.g., dropping out of school or being incarcerated).

Like other states, Virginia has increasingly turned to kinship care as a viable placement option for children when the family is in crisis. Kinship diversion occurs when local departments of social services facilitate the placement of a child with relatives to prevent a foster care placement when the child cannot remain with their parents. In 2009, the Virginia Department of Social Services conducted a study to measure the number of children diverted from foster care and placed with kinship caregivers. The Department calculated that the percentage of children diverted to relatives ranges from 8.3 to 11.6 percent. Applying this percentage to the total population of referrals over one year, it is estimated that local departments divert between 2,148 and 3,012 children from foster care via informal kinship placements.

Local department of social services workers are tasked with evaluating potential kinship caregivers. Federal law, regulations, and guidance provide states with some flexibility in their approaches to kinship care. However, Virginia has no standardized policy or guidance on kinship diversion. There is no guidance specifying when to conduct an assessment and which diversion cases require them. Some local department of social services’ workers may conduct a preliminary check and then follow up with a federal background check. Others may place the child with a relative before conducting any checks. Local departments may use safety plans to outline the service recommendations for the parent in order to regain care of her child. However, there is confusion about the legality of the safety plan. Additionally, when parents agree to a kinship arrangement to avoid an abuse and neglect proceeding, there is no defined procedure to ensure that the child returns home or achieves permanency. While kinship policies should be flexible regarding non-safety requirements, guidance regarding assessment, case management, and safety considerations would be helpful to inform case decisions.

At its May 14, 2012 meeting, the Commission on Youth adopted a study plan to clarify the definition of kinship caregivers and to provide for an advisory group of representatives from impacted agencies and stakeholder organizations to assist in this effort.

The Commission on Youth approved the following recommendations at its December 3, 2012 meeting:

Recommendation 1:

Support the Virginia Department of Social Services in the creation of guidelines for foster care diversion in early prevention that provide guidance to local department of social services workers on the role of the agency in diversion practice, safety considerations, relative notification, and the use of criminal and child protective services (CPS) checks. The Department of Social Services will report on its progress to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2014 General Assembly Session.

Recommendation 2:

Support the Virginia Department of Social Services in the development of an assessment tool for the informal diversion of youth from foster care into family placements and request that the Department report on the progress on the implementation of the assessment tool to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2014 General Assembly Session.