Every year, tens of thousands of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives—known as kinship caregivers—step in to help raise children they know and love when a state claims the children’s parent(s) are unable to do so. This crucial role, often taken up on short notice and amidst a family crisis, is not a decision made lightly—it is a life-changing commitment.
Over 2.6 million children are in kinship care placements today, living with relatives who provide the care and love they need, keeping them connected to their communities, culture, and heritage. But current licensing standards create barriers that can prevent or significantly delay kinship placements and deprive kinship caregivers of essential financial supports. New proposed federal regulations under review could help change that.
As an organization that holds government systems accountable for the safety and well-being of children, including keeping families together, Children’s Rights wholeheartedly supports a proposed Biden Administration regulation giving state foster systems clear authority to ease rigid licensing regulations governing kinship foster parents and provide approved kinship families with the same financial support that non-family licensed foster families receive. Longstanding federal law, supported by clinical research, prioritizes placing children with kinship caregivers.
Children who live with relatives in a home setting maintain critical family connections and heal more effectively from trauma, resulting in the best long-term outcomes for their future well-being. Relative foster parents also help care for children until they can be reunified with their parents, providing the stability and emotional supports that are critical for older youth who are otherwise at risk of being placed in expensive and harmful institutions and aging out of the foster system into unstable housing situations or the criminal legal system.
Yet, because most kinship foster homes in the U.S. are approved for placement but unlicensed, a substantial disparity in payments to kinship foster parents exists for relative caregivers, who tend to be older and more likely to live in poverty. Because Black children make up a disproportionate share of the pool of relative foster families, those families in particular carry an unequal and unfair burden when states fail to provide financial support to children in their care.
The Administration’s proposal is all about fairness. It challenges the current practice of providing significantly less financial support for foster children living with approved relative caregivers as compared with licensed non-relative foster parents, and offers a commonsense solution that would help address the inequities and disparities inherent in state systems. Eligible children would receive the same financial support, known as foster care maintenance payments, regardless of whether they are in an “approved” relative foster home or a “licensed” non-relative home. And states will have maximum flexibility, aside from required federal minimum safety standards common to both approved kinship homes and licensed non-kinship homes, to develop kinship approval standards that maximize their ability to prioritize using kinship families for children in the foster system.
The response to the government’s new rule from elected officials, government foster systems, and advocates has been overwhelmingly positive. In a letter to the Administration for Children and Families, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R) said, “We appreciate that the proposed rule would align federal regulations with Congressional intent by reducing barriers to kinship foster care placement, which would provide more opportunities for vulnerable children and youth to be cared for by the people who know and love them.” Over 90 comment submissions to the rule have been similarly supportive, including from Members of the Black Congressional Caucus, tribal leaders from across the U.S., the AARP and American Academy of Pediatrics, and a diverse array of government foster systems in states such as Kansas, Nebraska, California, New York, Wisconsin and New Mexico.
Across the country, thousands of children and families are waiting for us to right this wrong. Providing and encouraging states to adopt flexible and equitable reasonable standards for kinship family homes, and providing the full financial support these families need, would help address known racial disparities and dramatically increase the number of kids who can safely be cared for by loving adults uniquely qualified to do so.
Ira Lustbader is the Litigation Director and Chief Program Officer at Children’s Rights.