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About Kinship Care

Kinship Care - What is it?
Kinship care is typically classified in two ways: informal or formal. Relatives play an essential role in helping to meet the needs of children who are unable to live with their parents. The connection to family, relatives, and community is important to a growing child:
  • Children can live with people they already know and trust.
  • Children can maintain their personal and cultural identity.
  • Families learn to rely on their own resources and strengths.
The type of kinship care you engage in will affect the legal rights you have regarding the child's care.

Informal kinship care:
When family members decide that it would be in the child's best interest, due to issues of safety and stability, to provide out-of-home placement without outside agency involvement, the arrangement is called "informal kinship care." Sometimes, there isn't time to talk about or plan for the new arrangement. For example, this might happen if a parent gets ill, is evicted from his or her apartment, or becomes incarcerated.

Informal caregivers do not have any legal rights with respect to the children in their care. Regardless of why a child is living with relatives, the child's parents are still the legal guardians. The informal arrangement can be ended by the legal parent/guardian at any time. Additionally, in an informal relationship, a child welfare agency does not lave legal custody, so the caregiver's home does not need to be licensed by the state.

Formal kinship care:
Children are removed from the care of their parents/guardians when it is in the best interest of the child, due to issues of safety or stability. In this case, a process is in place that involves the child being under the legal protection of a child welfare agency. When the agency arranges for relatives to care for the child, that arrangement is called "formal kinship care." The kin provides a home and full time care, which includes nurturing and protecting the child. The child protective agency or court has legal custody of the child and ensures that the kinship caregivers' home meets safety requirements and other conditions of a family home environment. A caseworker from the agency works with the caregiver to set up a "permanency plan," and will check in with the caregiver and their kin by making monthly home visits. In formal kinship care, relatives participate as responsible and integral members of the child and family's support team. Relatives not closely related to a child may need to be licensed.

Adapted from definitions provided by the Child Welfare League of America

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The Kinship Navigator is a program of Children's Home Society of Washington and is
funded in part by the Southwest Washington Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities