The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) released a study this week about the barriers kinship foster care families face, and what the state can do to support them.
Kinship foster families are those in which the caregiver has a previous or current relationship to the child, as either a blood relative or another familial connection.
The study was shared to address some of the demands made in House Bill 2010, which was enacted during the 2019 legislative session. It’s a comprehensive reform bill designed to address the state’s overwhelmed foster care system.
Kinship placements are reportedly the best for a child’s stability when minors are unable to live with their parents. According to the study, kinship situations maintain a child’s ties to the community, and also reduce the trauma associated with being removed from a home.
And, the study says kinship placements can support drug addiction recovery for parents of children who are placed in foster care.
“As the nation confronts a prescription drug epidemic, the interconnections between that crisis and child welfare is apparent,” the study says.
“For families to successfully exit the system, relative/kinship care has demonstrated success in the concurrent addressing of a child’s safety and wellbeing and a parent’s recovery.”
Although the state depends on help from family friends and relatives when it comes to fostering children affected by this epidemic, the study highlights a few crucial difficulties these kinds of caregivers tend to face.
The research suggests West Virginia’s system for licensing kinship caregivers as foster parents has been inefficient. Of the 49 percent of foster care children living with kinship caregivers, the study reports 30 percent live in a licensed foster home, where the kin caregivers agreed to let the state conduct in-home interviews, visits, and retrieve character references.
Kin and relative caregivers can opt out of this certification, according to the study, but the state is still responsible for checking on the safety and wellbeing of foster children in their homes.
Because only certified foster families receive foster care stipends from the state, the study recommends streamlining the licensing process, so more kinship caregivers feel inclined to apply. The study specifically calls on the state to set a hard, 90-day timeline for this certification. It also suggests the state look into providing some kind of financial support to caregivers during the licensing period.
Non-licensed relative caregivers, with an official family connection, are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, while kin caregivers without that connection can apply for demand payments. The study shows those rates are comparably lower than those of some nearby states like Maryland, where caregivers with three children are eligible for $677 in benefits. (In West Virginia, that amount is $374.)
The study also recommends providing more accessible and effective training to caregivers. It points out that training is hard to get because of a lack of staff and nearby training locations.
The study was paid for by a grant from the Casey Family Foundation, and conducted by a Pennsylvania-based group specializing in kinship foster care called A Second Chance, Inc. The DHHR said it looks forward to continuing to work more with this group.