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The goal of the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment Program (Kin-GAP) was to establish permanency for foster children who have been living with a relative caregiver by offering guardianship through juvenile court when their dependency is dismissed. It sought to lower the number of children in the foster care system while still providing equivalent subsidies. For this paper, it is important to note that there are many types of kinship guardian programs between states, but in this case, I will mainly be referring to California’s Kin-GAP.

Those who are entering foster care are some of the most vulnerable children. They are likely to exhibit elevated levels of educational, psychological, and medical needs. Oftentimes finding a placement for these children can be a difficult process. The goal is to have a long-term residency where the child’s needs are met. Kinship care is considered a step forward in child welfare. There is multiple evidence that supports the positive benefits of having foster children live with a relative caregiver. It is evidenced through fewer placements, fewer reentries into foster care after reunification, a greater likelihood of being placed with siblings, a maintained sense of family and ethnic identity, and more (Aron). The outcomes for kinship-placed children are greater than for those who are not placed in relative guardianship.

This concept or strategy is not something new, it has been around for centuries. The formal use of kinship care in the child welfare system arose in the mid-1980s through the 90s when there was rapid growth of children being maintained in the child welfare system. (Shlonsky, 2004). When kinship guardianship took on a more formal role in child welfare, the crack cocaine crisis was at a prolonged peak. In 1989, out of about 900,000 substantiated referrals for abuse in neglect, 675,000 involved caretakers who were abusing drugs or alcohol. According to the American Public Welfare Association (APWA) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), there was a 29% increase in foster care placements from 1987 to 1990. Much of this increase was from communities that were hit hardest by crack cocaine (McCullough). With the enforcement of drug laws, which was used largely as a political tool at the time, and the unavailability of nonrelated foster homes, the unprecedented rise in the foster care population became of huge concern. This was compounded with the introduction of mandatory reporting laws (Lloyd). This led the public to view kinship care as an important tool in meeting the needs of children in the child welfare system (McCullough). Still, this contributed to the number of children residing in long-term foster care. This placement type was not legally permanent and was expensive to maintain.

Though it is difficult to pinpoint specific groups who were in favor or opposition to Kin-GAP, those who aligned more progressively politically were generally more in favor of this policy. Also, those who experienced firsthand the benefits of kinship care like families, foster children, direct service workers, etc. were likely to be in favor as well. This can be said differently with more conservative groups. They tended to argue in opposition to the policy. Also, another group in opposition may include parents. Some parents may be against the established permanent guardianship of their child to a relative. This creates a power relation dynamic between kinship guardian and parent, where the state is more situated with the former.

The arguments against Kin-GAP stem from an individualist neoliberal ideology. Opponents argue that it will promote a system of reliance on the government, benefitting “dysfunctional” families at the expense of taxpayers (Kealy). Supporters of the policy argue it will be more cost-efficient, instead of having to pay for costly supervision, and will reduce the load on the foster care system (Shlonsky 2002). They also provide evidence that it promotes greater permanency, healthier environments, and reduced stress on caregivers as a result of financial subsidies and follow-up services (Kealy).

Eligibility

To qualify for either the federal or state-funded Kin-Gap program, a child and the prospective guardian must meet multiple eligibility criteria. A child must be under the age of eighteen, must reside with a relative caregiver for at least six consecutive months, has been removed from the parental home under a voluntary placement agreement, be ruled a dependent child or ward of the juvenile court, and have entered a written binding agreement by the guardian and the county welfare agency or probation department before the establishment of guardianship (Kealy). Additionally, the guardian must be assessed according to the criteria established for foster care placement with a relative (CDSS).

The eligibility rules for the Kin-GAP program are universal within the foster care system. Using Stern’s framework on engaging in social welfare policy, programs that do not require an income test are defined as universal (Stern). The Kin-Gap program does not refer to the means of a family or caregiver, and any exemption and regulations would apply to all families and individuals (National Economic and Social Council). However, it is up to the discretion of the social worker whether to terminate court involvement or not. This can be based on a variety of reasons that may entail selective or mean-tested practices. Also, a relative caregiver’s participation in Kin-GAP is voluntary and not mandated by regulation or mandate (CDSS).

The target populations of this policy are aimed specifically at foster youth who have a relative guardian. Both the child and relative guardian receive benefits depending on their form. Also under the Federal Kin-GAP program, any sibling of the child existing under Title IV-E Kin-GAP may be placed in the same guardianship arrangement (CDSS).

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California took advantage of federal flexibility in defining the term “relative” to benefit from federal Kin-GAP. This includes any adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption, meets the definition of a nonrelated extended family member, a member of an Indian child’s tribe, etc. (CDSS). Those that do not fall into the categories defined under Welfare and Institutions section 11391(c) are excluded from the intended beneficiaries.

Benefits

The benefits of Kin-GAP come in the form of cash and services. The payments are based on the child’s needs that would otherwise be covered by foster care payments. These payments increase as the child ages and are assessed at least every two years. Rates are also increased based on the level of care and supervision required for the child, as well as factoring in the relative guardian’s circumstances. Children may also receive a clothing allowance issued through a check or clothing gift card (DCSF)

Because Kin-GAP’s main benefit is more defined in the form of financial assistance through cash, it is more tangible and concrete. The benefits are also diversified in a way that Kin-GAP may qualify beneficiaries for even more services like Medi-Cal.

The use of cash and other qualifying benefits as an incentive for legal guardianship can raise particular moral hazards within this policy. According to Stern, moral hazards refer to a risk created by security (Stern). In this case, the level of benefits associated with Kin-GAP may potentially lead to ill-intended legal guardianships. However, the rationales and underlying assumptions of this design were based on outcomes of children residing with relative guardians. Children who exited foster to legal guardianship were not likely to be maltreated or have another change in placement (Shlonsky 2002). The policy is one of the most effective interventions for placing children into permanent homes. According to a report done on Kin-GAP, 6,701 children in 26 counties exited the foster care system into Kin-GAP from January 1, 2000, to July 1, 2001 (Davis). Though the success of the policy can be attributed to many factors, universal eligibility within the foster care system proved vital in making it accessible for relative caregivers.

Delivery

When implementing this policy, the administrative considerations for delivery service first involve notifying all related foster parents about Kin-GAP. This includes developing and implementing a process for identifying adult relatives of a child’s removal, developing a plan to inform relative guardians who already have children living with them, modifying training to incorporate the availability of Kin-GAP, and also more educational and informative services on the policy (Testa et al.). The administration is focused on accessibility and outreach through direct service, but they are also concerned with funding. There are certain criteria for beneficiaries that allow them to receive additional federal Kin-GAP funding. Another administrative consideration is exposing beneficiaries to the additional criteria that will make them eligible for the additional funding.

The program is delivered through county social service agencies by mainly social workers and case managers. It can argued that Kin-GAP is a decentralized program because of the discretion the state has when administering and delivering the service. California’s Kin-GAP is run and financed jointly by the state and federal governments. It has aspects that are both centralized and decentralized (Besley, Coate).

The goal was to reduce the number of children in the foster care system and bring them into more permanent and stable homes through incentivized means. The role of relative guardians proved effective in this mission and also alleviated the issue of overrepresentation of children of color within the foster care system (Killos et al.). In Gilbert and Terrell’s Dimensions of Social Policy, they examine delivery systems and the importance of utilizing providers and consumers (Gilbert, Terrell). The delivery system proved effective in doing so. By utilizing direct services and incorporating strategies to reach beneficiaries, the policy was able to have a lasting effect on the foster care system.

Finance

Kin-GAP is federal, state, and county funded. It is funded at 50% federal share for children who are determined to be Title IV-E eligible. The remaining share is balanced by the state through foster care block grants and local county funds (Reddin). The cost-sharing arrangement falls in the middle of the continuum which reflects the desire to stay autonomous locally and still have national planning (Gilbert, Terrell).

The success of Kin-GAP can be attributed to the collaboration between federal, state, and local administrations. However, the policy design and how it was administered was especially an effective strategy in attaining their goals. The incentivized portion of Kin-GAP was a central aspect in reaching relative caregivers and providing permanent placement for children. It was also socially effective as well. Those who were potentially eligible were not inhibited from applying (Gilbert, Terrell). This discretion is allowed mainly because of the block grant. When AFDC was supplanted by TANF in 1996, funding switched from categorical to block grants, allowing more freedom for states (Gilbert, Terrell). However, there are usually additional criteria like citizenship status, income, and work requirements when switching to block grants.  

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