When talking about foster care and adoption, it can be easy to get lost among the many labels that apply to different forms of care. Kinship care is a term that is often used within the world of foster care, but may not be fully understood.
Kinship care occurs when a child who has been removed from their parents is placed under the care and supervision of another relative (stepparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, etc), or in some states, under the care of a close family friend (who are often called fictive kin).
In many situations, kinship care is the desired option, as it allows the children who are being removed from their parents to retain their connection with their family. While kinship care is not always an option, it often provides the child with a greater sense of stability while still allowing them to maintain cultural traditions, which makes it a preferable situation in many cases.
Since kinship care often involves a legal and/or biological tie to the child, the eligibility process varies based on case. In some situations, kinship care is “formal,” meaning that the child(ren) involved are legally removed from the home of their biological parents and taken into the custody of the State. This requires the child welfare agency, along with the court system, to find a caregiver to place the child with, beginning with immediate relatives. Because this process is intimately tied to the legal system, formal kinship caregivers must complete a training and licensure process, while also providing financial compensation and other supportive services.
In other situations, kinship care can be informal, or “voluntary,” meaning that the State has not taken legal custody of the children, but the biological parents of the child, typically under the advisement of child welfare agencies, have voluntarily placed their children with a relative. Custody status may change over time in these situations, but at the start, voluntary kinship care is defined by the fact that biological
parents have willingly temporary relinquished their full-time care of the child. Because the legal process of voluntary care is not as strenuous, many voluntary kinship caregivers do not have to go through the training and licensure process.
The ultimate goal of kinship care is reunification with the biological parents. However, the return of the child to his or her original home is not always an option. In these cases, many kinship caregivers are given the option to adopt the child they have been caring for. As with any form of foster care or adoption, the primary goal of kinship care is to provide the safest and most stable environment for the child involved.