Bringing Kinship Care Out of the Shadows

Chapin Hall experts identify opportunities to promote "kin first" culture

Kinship diversion care is sometimes described as “hidden foster care” because it is complex and often operates outside the boundaries of the foster care system. The child welfare agency practice of asking parents to agree to their children living with kin outside of the foster care system is not well studied, though most experts believe it takes place in almost every jurisdiction. Kinship foster care is viewed as best practice because evidence shows that children fare better being with kin or fictive kin (close family friends) when they cannot safely remain with their parent(s).

Despite the positive aspects of kinship care, the parameters of kinship diversion are vague and these kinship families are not eligible for the same benefits as foster families. When a child is in a diverted kinship living arrangement, there are no formal plans for reunification and no specific requirements for child welfare agencies to provide aid or services to the child, their parents, or their kinship caregivers, as there are for children in foster care. 

In a new brief, Chapin Hall Policy Analyst Stephanie Armendariz compiled key definitions and evidence to better clarify kinship practices and developed a list of recommendations for those who are deciding how to explore, make meaning of, and implement changes to child welfare agencies’ kinship diversion practices. 

Evidence shows that when compared with kinship foster caregivers or non-kin foster caregivers, voluntary kinship caregivers caring for children who had been diverted from the child welfare system were more likely to be living in poverty and report financial struggles. Researchers also highlight disparities in care with White children being placed with kin outside of the child welfare system more often that children of color, but Black children entering foster care from kinship diversion at a higher rate. In fact, in one analysis of three states, a study found that Black children entered foster care after kinship diversion 3.2 times more frequently than their White peers. 

Our experts propose a number of recommendations, including:

  • Incorporating lived experience from those affected by kinship practices
  • Using specific categories to correctly identify the different kinds of kinship families
  • Exploring how foster care licensing standards may present barriers to  licensure for kinship caregivers
  • Assessing the fit and feasibility of implementing the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Supported Diversion Model. For full recommendations, download the brief below.

Chapin Hall is a leader in the field of kinship care research and capacity-building. Our policy experts partner with jurisdictions and organizations across the United States, including in Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut, and Michigan, to apply innovative approaches to developing, implementing, and evaluating effective kinship navigator programs. These programs are designed to help families understand and access supports available to them, while spurring systems to become more equitable and responsive to family needs. 

For more information, contact Dr. Krista Thomas, Shaun Lane, or Stephanie Armendariz.  

Download Kinship Diversion Brief