Placement with kin caregivers when children cannot live safely with their parents can minimize the trauma of removal. When children are removed they often lose everything they know—their parents, their home, their siblings, friends, school, pets, etc. Placing a child with family diminishes this loss. Additionally, relatives often are willing to take large sibling groups, live in the same neighborhood therefore allowing for continuity of school and community, and provide the comfort of living with someone the child knows and shares a relationship with.
Research confirms that compared to children in nonrelative care, children in kinship homes fare better, as measured by several child well-being factors.5 Children in the care of relatives experience increased stability, with fewer placement changes, decreased likelihood of disruption and not as many school changes. Relatives are more likely than nonrelatives to support the child through difficult times and less likely to request removal of problematic children to whom they are related. The children themselves generally express more positive feelings about their placements and are less likely to run away.
Kin caregivers also provide higher levels of permanency and children experience less reentry into foster care when living with kin. Relatives are more likely to provide a permanent home through guardianship, custody or adoption. Currently about 32% of children adopted from foster care are adopted by relatives. Another 9% exit foster care to some form of guardianship with kin.
Children in kinship homes have better behavioral and mental health outcomes. One study showed children in kinship care had fewer behavioral problems three years after placement than children placed into traditional foster care. This study also found children who moved to kinship care after a significant time in foster care were more likely to have behavioral problems than children in kinship care from the outset. The long-term effects of these relationships was also studied and the formation of a close relationship with an adult, such as a kinship caregiver, was found to predict more positive mental health as an adult.
One important benefit of kinship care is the increased likelihood of living with or staying connected to siblings. Data from the Illinois Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (ISCAW), a statewide study of well-being and service delivery for children involved in substantiated child maltreatment investigations, showed that in 2013, 80% of children with one or two siblings in care were placed together as compared to 66.9% for children placed in traditional foster homes. For children with three or more siblings in care the disparity is even greater with 53.5% of siblings placed together in kinship homes and only 1.8% placed together in traditional foster homes.6
The connection to family or another supportive adult is critical for older youth. Research shows it is key for youth to have permanent, emotionally sustaining and committed relationships to reach self-sufficiency and to reduce the risk of negative outcomes such as homelessness and criminal involvement. A key recommendation from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute report Never Too Old: Achieving Permanency and Sustaining Connections for Older Youth in Foster Care7 was to increase efforts to recruit, support and utilize relatives by promoting kinship adoption and subsidized guardianship, and explore subsidized guardianship and adoption.
However, the report also stressed the need to provide enhanced supports for relatives who foster or adopt as kin caregivers who typically have far lower incomes than other adoptive or foster parents. One study showed the value of mentoring relationships, a role often fulfilled by a close relative. A successful mentoring relationship was found to contribute to: socio-emotional development, problem-solving, and identity development. This was especially valuable to youth during vulnerable periods like transitions into and out of care.8
Kinship care also helps to preserve children’s cultural identity and relationship to their community. Children in kinship homes are more likely to stay connected to their extended family and maintain their cultures and customs. Overall, research shows that family connections are critical to healthy child development and a sense of belonging. Kinship care allows for maintaining these critical family connections. The foster care system must consider and address the needs of kinship caregivers to help children achieve stability and permanency with families.
In 2012, the US Census Bureau found that 21% of children living in both formal and informal kinship care lacked any form of health insurance coverage, more than doubling the 9% of children without coverage living with their biological parents.
A report by Casey Family Programs found that children in kinship care are more likely to be hyperactive, to have asthma, physical disabilities and poor eating and sleeping habits than those living with their biological parents. In 2007, the National Children’s Health Survey found that children in kinship care had more mental and medical needs than those living with biological parents. Children in kinship care are also almost half as likely to receive an outpatient mental health evaluation, and teenagers in kinship care were more likely to become pregnant or have issues with substance abuse as those in traditional foster care.
Click here for the 2022 Kinship Care Strength and Challenges Fact Sheet in EnglishGrandfamilies y kinship families tienen fortalezas únicas y deben enfrentar desafíos únicos. A diferencia de los padres, estos parientes cuidadores no tienen derechos ni responsabilidades legales inherentes respecto a los niños que crían. Muchas veces asumen la responsabilidad informal de los niños de forma repentina y no tienen tiempo para planificar sus necesidades económicas, de vivienda o de otro tipo.
Click here for the 2022 Kinship Care Strength and Challenges Fact Sheet in Spanish