Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #10: Federal Benefits for Relative Caregivers

Lily Cory, 25, a graduate social work student at the University of Washington. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

The Imprint is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.

Today we highlight the recommendation of Lily Cory, 25, a graduate social work student at the University of Washington.

The Proposal

Cory would take three steps to bolster the federal support available to relatives caring for children of loved ones. First, she would amend Title IV-E, the entitlement that includes most federal child welfare funding, to permit what she calls “essential services” to kinship caregivers.

Next, she would create a “child-only” section of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides financial help to low-income individuals to buy groceries. The child-only option would enable a relative who did not qualify themselves for SNAP to access it for the child in their care.

Finally, she would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a Quality Improvement Center with a goal of standardizing the key components of kinship navigators, one-stop centers aimed at connecting relatives with both direct assistance and referrals for help.

The Argument

Relatives who formally receive a child through foster care are offered more financial support and assistance than those who serve as informal caregivers in child welfare cases, Cory argues. Under the Family First Prevention Services Act, which seeks to help states prevent the use of foster care in more cases, informal kin diversions are likely to increase.

“In addition to health insurance through Medicaid, the only resources available to informal and diverted kin are the [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] Child-Only Grant ($130-$800 per month) or locally-funded programs such as kinship navigator programs,” Cory said.

In Their Own Words

“The only reason my aunt was able to support us in her home was because we had additional state support. Unfortunately, there are many other kinship families that do not have those finances, but who still provide the same stability to children who are one step closer to going into the child welfare system.”

The Imprint’s Take

The Family First Prevention Services Act, in one way, sort of codified what a lot of people know is already happening: that while some relatives take kids formally in foster care, many more are helping the child welfare system out informally. And the new front-end services allowed under Family First are an attempt to make that arrangement more fruitful.

But it does not actually pony up money and assistance to help those kin in the short term, and this

Boundless Futures, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

is what Cory brings attention to here. It is unlikely that her first call, allowing for IV-E reimbursement to support the sort of kin placements envisioned under Family First, will have traction. Family First started years ago with much broader allowances for services, and was pared back to make it passable. But there is already a bill in both chambers that would open up the Title IV-B account to allow payments to relatives.

On first glance, we love the idea of a child-only SNAP benefit; very cool. In many states, relatives who are not licensed foster parents are not provided a foster care payment, but can qualify for a TANF “child-only” grant to help with costs. Surely the relative who needed that help could also use some help with the groceries – imagine adding a healthy growing kid or two or three to your shopping regimen! SNAP child-only would be a tremendous added benefit for kin receiving the TANF support, and could serve as a lesser but important benefit for relatives in a higher income range.

The obvious questions would be around who is eligible, for how much of a SNAP benefit, and how much would it cost? A massive expansion of SNAP might not get traction, but something of a smaller scope … perhaps.

Finally, Cory’s call for a Quality Improvement Center (QIC) on kinship navigator programs is well-timed. Family First offers a huge opportunity to fund more and better navigators, but the money will only flow to those models that are deemed to be “evidence-based” by the Family First clearinghouse. So far, the clearinghouse has reviewed two navigator programs, and denied both of them.

The Administration for Children and Families uses QICs to assemble a group to work on a particular issue, like “adoption and guardianship” or “workforce development.” So the mission would probably have to be a bit wider than just navigators, but that’s fine – it’s a good time to launch the QIC-Kinship.

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