What is Kinship Foster Care and Why is it so Important?
Last updated: January 25, 2024, at 8:13 a.m. PT
Originally published: January 25, 2024, at 8:13 a.m. PT
For many years, studies and scholarly research around foster care have shown that there is a clear “harm of removal” that has long-lasting impacts on children. Removing a child from their family can affect a child’s overall development, disrupt a child’s connections to their community and support systems, and negatively affect their mental health.
In 2021, the Washington State Legislature passed the Keeping Families Together Act (HB 1227) to create a more equitable process that serves children and families by supporting kinship placements and reducing racial disparities in the foster care system.
In cases where removal is necessary, the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families is focusing on supporting kinship placements by what they term a “kin first” culture. The State defines the term “kinship care” as full-time care provided by a child’s relatives and suitable others. “Suitable others” are unrelated kin or close family friends.
Beginning in 2023, the State Department has created an expedited licensing process to ensure kinship families have access to monthly monetary support and connection to community services. In addition, the licensing process aims to reduce barriers to child placements with kinship-specific licensing waivers and support for households to obtain necessary safety and household items.
Kinship families have been supporting children throughout the existence of the foster care system. Historically, though, they have not received a monthly stipend, case management services, or other support to maintain a successful placement. Kinship families span a range of ages, socio-economic status, educational background, and abilities. Many kinship families already have children in the home and full life schedules. For grandparents, becoming a kinship caregiver may mean returning to the workforce and/or impacting their housing due to the addition of a new child into their home. Kinship caregivers also must navigate complicated and stressful boundaries with biological parents whom they have had an existing relationship with. With these needs in mind, child placing agencies have worked closely with Washington State to ensure kinship families have the option to license with private agencies. In addition, there are multiple community organizations in the Puget Sound area that support kinship caregivers, including support groups, training and education, and community resources.
Kinship families play an important role in supporting children and families when removal is needed. According to research, children in kinship placements tend to spend less time in foster care, have higher placement stability, have a lower possibility of being abused by a caregiver, have a greater ability to stay connected to extended family and cultural and religious practices and have better behavioral and mental health outcomes. Equally, it has been shown that children have better long-term outcomes when reunified with their biological families.
At the YMCA, we believe in supporting reunification whenever possible, and our foster parents are doing amazing work in maintaining relationships with biological families. It takes a village to raise a child, and we welcome the prioritization of support systems for kinship families.