The recent rise in the percentage of children who are exiting foster care through adoption by relative resources1 impacts the role of the guardian ad litem (GAL).
When making recommendations for children involved in CHIPS cases, it is important that GALs understand how unique family dynamics impact the recommendations they are asked to make.
What Is Kinship Care?
Kinship care is defined as:
“any form of residential caregiving provided to children by kin, whether full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, and whether initiated by private family agreement or under custodial supervision of a state child welfare agency.”2
Put more simply, the idea behind kinship care is simply families helping take care of other family member’s children.
Kinship care provides for the placement of a child who is under the custody of the state by a child protective agency to the home of a relative of the child.
Kaitlyn Dvorak is a 3L at Marquette University Law School with an interest in family and children law. She serves on the executive board of the Marquette Benefits & Social Welfare Law Review and as treasurer for the Children and Family Law Society.
Most kinship care arrangements result from private family arrangements.3 Millions of children under the age of 18 live with a family member other than a biological parent.4 In fact, one in 10 grandparents raise a grandchild for at least six months, while one-fifth of those grandparents raise a grandchild for more than 10 years.5
As a result of the growing rates of kinship care, it can be seen in some populations as the revival of the informal child welfare system.6 Kinship care has also become an integral part of the child welfare policy of many states.7 Therefore, kinship care is becoming the “fastest-growing foster care initiative.”8
Why Should GALs Consider Placement with Family First?
Kinship care achieves state’s dual missions of promoting both child welfare and family autonomy, which makes it the most beneficial foster care alternative.9 The realistic and practical aspects of kinship care have contributed to the growth in popularity of the option in states that consider it a viable alternative.10
The Child Welfare League of America has listed several beneficial outcomes for the maintaining relationships between foster children and their care-giving kin that the guardian ad litem in a case should be aware of.
Some of the benefits include:
enabling children to live with people whom they know and trust,
reducing the trauma children may experience when they are placed with persons who are initially unknown to them,
reinforcing children’s sense of identify and self-esteem,
providing connections to children’s culture,
facilitating further connections to children’s’ siblings, and
strengthening families’ ability to give children the support they need.11
There is a growing belief that kinship care is more advantageous for children in foster care.12 Kinship care studies have continued to show that it provides children with more stability and permanency, as well as reducing the magnitude of behavioral problems often associated with foster care.13
Family Placement Controversies
Kinship care, however, is not without any criticism or controversy. Some of the issues include funding, kinship caretaker licensing requirements, implementation of kinship care systems, and reunification services.14
The biggest concern raised by critics of kinship care is the cost of funding.15 In particular, critics suggest that a system of kinship care encourages relatives to ask for payments when, historically, many families provided care for free – therefore overburdening already limited resources of the foster care system.16
Some critics suggest that people will defraud the system by having children placed with family members in order to obtain increased public benefits for themselves, their children, or their family members.17
However, these criticisms tend to focus on the economic portion of relative care and kinship adoption, and not the benefits of kinship adoption for the children placed in these situations.
The Role of the GAL
The GAL in children’s court cases should be aware of the potential benefits for the children when deciding whether to recommend the children be placed with an available, acceptable family member.
In many cases, kinship placement is the best option for the child, allowing them to stay connected with their culture, family, and identity.
It also can be challenging for the parents and the relatives to understand and redefine new relationships within the family. It is important that the parents and the relative adoptive resources understand and have support for the changes the family experiences after approval of a kinship adoption.
The GAL can help the transition, by recommending services for the new families. For example, individual and family therapy may help parents and relatives with feelings of guilt, anger, confusion, or happiness that can arise out of a kinship adoption.
It is also important to remember that grandparents may need support as they learn to care for their grandchild.18
A More Positive Future
GALs should consider relative placement and kinship adoption, if available. It may be in the best interest of the child to stay in a familiar, comfortable environment of a relative. A relative placement can provide a beneficial connection for a child to their past, and help them create a more positive future.
The editor and author wish to thank Jonathan P. Cook, U.W. Law School 3L and legal intern at the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, for his assistance in reviewing this blog.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Children & the Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Children & the Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.
1 Kinship Adoption, ChildFocus, April 2010.
2 Megan M. O’Laughlin, Theory of Relativity: Kinship Foster Care May Be the Key to Stopping the Pendulum of Terminations vs. Reunification, A, 51 Vand. L. Rev. 1427, 1447 (1998).
3 Id. at 1448.
9 Elizabeth Killackey, Kinship Foster Care, 26 Fam. L.Q. 211, 215 (1992).
11 Elizabeth Barker Brandt, De Facto Custodians: A Response to the Needs of Informal Kin Caregivers?, 38 Fam. L.Q. 291, 293 (2004).
12 Elizabeth Farrar, Zach Neumann, Adoption and Foster Care, 12 Geo. J. Gender & L. 409, 434 (2011).
13 Killackey, supra note 18, at 215.
18 A referral to the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support network may be appropriate.