- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Foster children in “kinship care” spend more years in foster care and are less likely to be adopted or reunified with their parents than if they are placed with nonrelatives, a new report says.

But most of these children think it’s just fine to live indefinitely with their relatives.

When foster children were asked whether they could imagine living in their current placements “until you’re grown up,” “almost 80 percent of the kids in kinship care said yes,” said Urban Institute researcher Rob Geen, who just released several papers on kinship care.

“This rate is almost twice that of children in non-kin foster care,” he said. The question appears on the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, which is tracking children through the child-welfare system.

Kinship care, in which abused or neglected children are placed with their grandparents, aunts, elder siblings or other family members, is the second-most-common placement in the United States.

Of 542,000 children in foster care in September 2001, the biggest portion — 260,384, or 48 percent — were in the homes of nonrelatives, the most recent federal data show.

Twenty-four percent, or 130,869 children, were in relatives’ homes. The rest of the children were in institutions, group homes, pre-adoptive homes, trial home visits, independent living programs, or listed as runaways.

Despite its popularity, kinship care — which usually comes with monthly government subsidies for the child — has been criticized as only a semipermanent solution for needy children.

“Long-term foster care” generally is discouraged as the permanency plan for a child, but social workers report that it is exactly the plan of many children in kinship care, said Mr. Geen.

Kinship care also is seen as an easy solution for wayward parents. “It almost gives [parents] permission to go and continue their [bad] behavior … because they know the child’s with family and they’re perfectly content with that,” a Connecticut child welfare official told Mr. Geen.

Kinship care is certainly an appropriate option for some children, said Thomas Atwood of the National Council for Adoption. Social workers just need to ensure that the relative is “truly capable of providing the loving care the child needs” and “can protect the child” from an abusive parent, he said.

In his paper, “Finding Permanent Homes for Foster Children: Issues Raised by Kinship Care,” Mr. Geen reported that, in many cases, relatives didn’t pursue legal adoption of a child because they didn’t mind the kinship arrangement, didn’t know the benefits of adoption and often held out hope that the parent would “eventually get better” and reclaim their child.

But Mr. Geen also found that caseworkers rarely promoted adoption to kinship-caregivers based on a belief that relatives weren’t interested in adoption. In contrast with this perception, Mr. Geen said, “the majority of kin we spoke to were willing to adopt.”

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