Foster Care:

Kinship Care Quality and Permanency Issues

HEHS-99-32: Published: May 6, 1999. Publicly Released: May 6, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how well kinship care is serving foster children, focusing on the: (1) quality of care that children in kinship care receive compared with that received by other foster children, as measured by a caseworker's assessment of a caregiver's parenting skills, the extent to which a foster child is able to maintain contact with familiar people and surroundings, and a caregiver's willingness to enforce court-ordered restrictions on parental visits; (2) frequency with which state child welfare agencies pursue various permanent living arrangements and the time children in kinship care have spent in the system compared with other foster children; and (3) recent state initiatives intended to help ensure that children in kinship care receive good quality foster care and are placed in permanent homes in a timely manner.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's survey of open foster care cases in California and Illinois showed that in most respects the quality of both kinship and other foster care was good and that the experiences of children in kinship care and children in other foster care settings were comparable; (2) GAO found that caregivers both in kinship care and in other foster care settings demonstrated good parenting skills overall; (3) GAO also confirmed the belief that there is more continuity in the lives of children in kinship care before and after they enter foster care than there is in other foster children's lives; (4) in cases in which the courts have restricted parental visits with foster children to ensure the children's safety, the proportion of cases in which the caseworker believed that the caregiver was likely to enforce the restrictions was somewhat smaller among kinship care cases than among other foster care cases; (5) some of the standards that California and Illinois use to ensure good quality foster care and the level of support each state provides to foster caregivers are lower for kinship care than other types of foster care; (6) previous research on children who have left foster care has shown that children who had been in kinship care were less likely to be adopted and stayed longer in foster care than other foster children; (7) between California and Illinois, GAO's survey showed no consistent findings regarding the relationship between kinship care and permanency goals or the time foster children had spent in the system; (8) in Illinois, kinship care cases were more likely to have a permanency goal of adoption or guardianship than other foster care cases; (9) Illinois has found that kinship caregivers are willing to adopt, and Illinois is actively pursuing adoption in kinship care cases; (10) in California, kinship care cases were less likely than other foster care cases to have adoption or guardianship as a goal; (11) according to California officials, this may be because, at the time of GAO's survey, the state had only recently begun to offer adoption and guardianship options specifically designed for a foster child's relatives; (12) in California, there was no significant difference between the average length of time that children in kinship care and children in other settings had spent in the system; (13) in Illinois, children in kinship care had spent significantly less time in the system than other foster children; and (14) both California and Illinois are now taking steps to better ensure the good quality of kinship care and to encourage kinship caregivers to provide permanent homes for foster children who cannot return to their parents.

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