Landscape of Kinship Navigator Programs Shows Investment, Innovation

The Issue

Kinship Navigator programs support the ongoing stabilization of kinship families by helping caregivers learn about and access resources that meet their evolving needs and those of the children they are raising. Over the last two decades, Congress has provided federal funding to support the development of kinship navigator models. In 2018, Congress began appropriating annual funds to help states develop, enhance, or evaluate kinship navigator programs. This, combined with the funding available through the Family First Prevention Services Act, supported the advancement of kinship navigation models and renewed investment in innovative programs to support families outside of the formal child welfare system.

The Evidence

As of August 2023, four kinship navigator programs have been given a “promising” or “supported” rating on the Title IV-E Federal Clearinghouse, clearing them for ongoing federal reimbursement. All four of the models demonstrated increased child permanency as a result of the intervention. Notably, these four programs only include formal kinship families in the evaluations of their programs.

In this brief, Chapin Hall Policy Analyst Samantha Steinmetz and Associate Policy Analyst Yvonne Fox review the programs currently on the Title IV-E Clearinghouse and the innovative practices and program components in developing models. They pose recommendations for child welfare leaders who are considering designing or implementing their own kinship navigator program.

The Way Forward

Select recommendations based on analysis of these programs include:

  • Engage a diverse and representative set of partners to determine the goals and objectives for kinship navigation support in the jurisdiction. Collaborators will optimally include partnering state and local agencies, Tribal governments, community representatives, and individuals with lived expertise.
  • Be as expansive as possible when determining target populations for kinship navigation models. Models can include broad target populations that can be accessed by formal and informal caregivers, fictive kin, post-adoptive caregivers, and caregivers who have never come to the attention of child welfare.
  • Be thoughtful and realistic when determining timeframes for design, implementation, and evaluation. Consider the length of time it takes to establish appropriate partnerships, design a new program, install the appropriate infrastructure, implement the model with quality and fidelity, and execute an effectiveness trial. It may take several years to move through each phase of a rigorous evidence-building process.
  • During the process of evaluation, evaluators should apply a Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation (CREE) approach to center the perspectives of those most impacted by the program, individuals with lived expertise, and principles of social justice.

For more information, contact Samantha Steinmetz. To learn more about our work in kinship care, visit our project page, Kinship Care Leads to Better Outcomes for Children.

Read the brief

Recommended Citation
Steinmetz, S., & Fox, Y. (2023). Kinship navigation models and innovations in the context of the Family First Prevention Services Act. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.