Kinship care is the full time care, nurturing, and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child. This definition is designed to be inclusive and respectful of cultural values and ties of affection. It allows a child to grow into adulthood in a family environment.
Kinship Care has existed since the beginning of families. In history, the idea of relatives helping to care for children was common place when geography was not a barrier. Today, many cultures and families still utilize informal kinship care to care for children. Sometimes, it is only for short time periods, other times children move in with relatives permanently. The reasons for kinship care is as varied and diverse as families are but some of the reasons that children may live with relatives include:
- deployment of parents in the military
- parental mental/physical illness or substance abuse
- death of a parent
- poverty; the parent’s work requirements
- family violence, a relative’s concern for health, safety, and well-being of the child
Regardless of the reason that children move in with relatives, the number of kinship families is on the rise. In Michigan, approximately 52,000 children live in kinship families.
In Michigan, when children are not able to stay with their parents, the parents are asked to identify any fit and willing relatives who may be able to care for the children. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and its contracted agencies prioritize placing children with relatives whenever possible. Currently, about 36% of the foster care placements in Michigan are with relatives. Relatives willing to act as a foster care placement for a child must pass an initial safety assessment and be willing to work with the child’s foster care workers to achieve permanency.
Read more about kinship care and the child welfare system.
Research suggests that kinship care offers greater stability for children who are living with their relatives, but it reduces their chances of obtaining permanent legal status such as adoption and custody and guardianship. Federal legislation strongly encourages adoption as a viable permanency option for children in kinship care. Other forms of permanence such as legal guardianship may be an option for families to consider. Child welfare professionals should engage families in the decision-making process to establish an appropriate legal permanency plan.
Planning for permanence for children should also include seeking appropriate support services for kin families. Kinship families are in need of support services such as: day care, respite care, support groups, physical and mental health services, educational services and legal assistance for kin caregivers. These services will support children while they remain in a safe and stable family setting.
Read more about permanency for relative providers.