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Foster and Kinship Care: An Examination of the Legislation that Aims to Improve Permanency and Continuity of Care in Ontario

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Abstract

Changes to the Ontario child welfare system in 2006 were based on the premise that expanding kinship placement options for children in the care of the Society would improve permanency outcomes and minimize placement disruptions. This study examined whether foster care or kinship care were associated with permanency outcomes and continuity of care of children. Analyses indicated that children living in foster care were more likely to achieve permanency, but were more likely to be separated from siblings. Children in kinship care were more likely to engage in running (AWOL) behaviour. There were no differences in placement disruptions, with both kinship and foster care placements exhibiting strength and dedication to youth stability. These findings suggest that Ontario legislation promoting kinship care may not contribute to improved permanency for children as originally anticipated.
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Foster and Kinship Care: An Examination of the Legislation that Aims to
Improve Permanency and Continuity of Care in Ontario
Kimberly Brisebois, PhD, MSW Shawna J Lee, PhD.
Wayne State University University of Michigan
Changes to the Ontario child welfare system in 2006 were based on the premise that expanding
kinship placement options for children in the care of the Society would improve permanency
outcomes and minimize placement disruptions. This study examined whether foster care or
kinship care were associated with permanency outcomes and continuity of care of children.
Analyses indicated that children living in foster care were more likely to achieve permanency, but
were more likely to be separated from siblings. Children in kinship care were more likely to
engage in running (AWOL) behaviour. There were no differences in placement disruptions, with
both kinship and foster care placements exhibiting strength and dedication to youth stability.
These findings suggest that Ontario legislation promoting kinship care may not contribute to
improved permanency for children as originally anticipated.
Introduction
Over the past decade, the child welfare system in Ontario has undergone significant changes
in policy and standards of practice. Child welfare reform in the late 1990s saw a considerable
increase in the number of children entering the foster care system, with the number of children in
foster care rising from approximately 10,000 in 1998 to over 18,000 by 2003 (Ministry of Child and
Youth Services [MCYS], 2005). This staggering growth in foster care placements put the Ontario
child welfare system in a financial state of crisis and created the need for a comprehensive evaluation
of a system that was no longer fiscally sustainable. This evaluation resulted in a series of
recommendations that aimed to improve child outcomes, child welfare accountability, and
sustainability (Ministry of Child and Youth Services (MCYS, 2005). A vital piece of this
transformation agenda aimed to expand permanency planning options for youth at risk of removal
from their homes, especially in relation to the use of kinship caregivers. By mandating the
exploration of kin placement possibilities and expanding placement options to include the use of
kinship caregivers, the Ontario government sought to decrease spending on foster care, while also
asserting that enhanced kinship options would improve continuity of care and permanency option
outcomes for children.
Although this research is specific to Ontario standards, the trend toward increased kinship
placements is not unique to the province of Ontario. Child protection agencies across Canada report
that placement with relatives is more widespread than in the past. While policies vary among
provinces and are in various stages of development, implementation and evaluation, family
preservation policies across the county support kin as the first placement option for children
(Gough, 2006). However; due to incongruent policies and the varying definitions of kin across
jurisdictions, the ability to “tabulate the total numbers of children who have achieved ‘permanent’
care in the provinces/territories are significantly thwarted…” (Farris-Manning & Zandstra, 2003, p.
6). Readers who are interested in a provincial comparison of kinship standards are encouraged to
review the Kinship Care Review Report (2009) authored by the Government of Alberta available
online.
Broadly defined, kinship care refers to “any living arrangement in which children do not live
with either of their parents and are instead cared for by a relative or someone with whom they have
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had a prior relationship” (Geen, 2004, p. 132). According to statistics compiled by the Ontario
Association of Children’s Aid Societies, as of March 31, 2008, the province of Ontario maintained
17,945 children in their care. Of that total, 5.6% were placed within kinship care.
Legal permanence is defined as “binding” by legal custody or adoption (Geen 2003; Tilbury
& Osmond, 2006). The Ontario transformation agenda enacted in 2006, promoted the idea of legal
permanence through amended legislation that expanded permanency planning options to include
legal custody as an option for youth being cared for by kin. Further, in late 2008, the MCYS began
to mandate compliance of kinship foster homes under the same standards as foster homes.
Improved and standardized training delivered to kinship caregivers and foster parents alike aimed to
provide information to alternate caregivers to help meet the increasingly complex needs of the
children in their care. These modifications allowed for kinship care homes to be eligible for foster
care per diem rates. While the standards governing foster care are now applied to formal kinship
care arrangements, these same standards do not apply to kinship service homes. Kinship services
homes are not required to participate in standardized training and are not eligible for per diem rates.
The Ontario child welfare system now distinguishes between three types of foster parents: (1)
kinship service (informal foster care by relatives that may or may not include a Supervision Order of
the placement); (2) kinship care (formal foster care by relatives); and (3) foster care (formal foster
care by non-relative caregivers). These categories are similar to classification models used in
empirical studies (e.g., Berrick, Barth, & Needell, 1994).
The transformation agenda and subsequent moves toward kinship care as a mechanism to
improve permanency outcomes represented a significant shift in policy and practice in the Ontario
child welfare system. Yet, little is known about the outcomes of Ontario children living in kinship
care and few studies have examined child permanency outcomes related to kinship versus foster care
arrangements. This study examined whether foster care versus formal kinship care arrangements
were associated with children’s legal permanence resulting in adoption, custody arrangements, or
reunification with parents. As noted above, informal kinship services families do not receive the
same training and per diem support as formal kinship care and foster care families. Therefore, to
maintain comparability of the groups, only formal kinship care and foster care homes were included
in this study.
Legal Permanence of Children in Kinship and Foster Care
A fundamental principle in child welfare is to ensure that children who are removed from
their parent’s care are reunified with their parents or achieve permanency in a sensible amount of
time (Geen, 2003). In fact, Ontario legislation limits the cumulative length of time a child can be in
care. Permanent plans are mandated to be in place within 12 months for a child under the age of six,
and within 24 months for older children (Government of Ontario, 2000). Permanency is defined
with three possible outcomes: 1) reunification with a biological parent; 2) adoption, in which
parenthood is given to an alternate adult other then the biological parent and 3) legal custody, in
which authority for the child is given to an alternate adult other then the biological parent.
Due to the lack of Canadian research, we examined studies from the United States and the
United Kingdom. This literature is divided on whether kinship care arrangements facilitate legal
permanence for children. Some studies show that children living with kin experienced higher rates
of reunification with their biological parents (Winokur et al., 2008; del Valle, Lopez, Montserrat, &
Bravo, 2009), whereas other studies have found no significant differences in reunification rates when
comparing kinship care to standard foster care (Frame, 2002; Koh & Testa, 2008; Koh, 2010,
Zimmerman, Daykin, Moore, Wuu, & Li, 1998). Still other studies have determined that children in
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kinship care tended to remain out of the parental home longer than those children placed in foster
homes (Courtney, 1994; Scannapieco, Hegar, & McAlpine, 1997). Examination of the combined
rates of adoption and custody arrangements found no differences among children in kinship
arrangements or foster care (Koh et al., 2008), but kin were more likely to obtain custody than
pursue adoption (Koh et al, 2008; Winokur et al, 2008). In addition, several studies found that
children living with relatives were less likely to achieve legal permanence, especially when it was
related to adoption (Connell, Katz, Saunders, & Tebes, 2006; Geen, 2004; Testa, 2001; Thornton,
1991).
While the original belief guiding Ontario child welfare transformation was that kinship care
would move children to permanency more quickly, this may not be the reality. There are various
explanations for why permanency may not occur, or may occur less quickly, for children placed with
kin. With literature so divided as to the potential benefits of kinship care, the issue of whether
kinship caregivers facilitate permanence for the children in their care remains an important area for
investigation.
Discrepancies in the literature may result from the lack of consistency in government
policies and practices. Research studies across the United States and abroad do not always consider
the differences in standards and practice and that may impact the success or failure of kinship care
placements (Geen, 2003). For example, while certain states approve kinship caregivers based on the
same licensing standards as foster homes, other states follow a more lenient approval process for kin
(Duerr Berrick, 1998). Furthermore, supportive services such as respite care, caregiver training or
transportation available to kinship caregivers vary among jurisdictions and these factors may
influence the success of placements. Research on the Ontario differential response model can
provide unique information that is relevant to this model and to Ontario standards of practice. The
groups under review in this study include kinship homes that have been approved under the same
standards as formal foster homes and therefore are offered the same services and financial support
as foster parents. These similarities can provide more comparable experiences for children in foster
care and kinship homes. For this reason, we hypothesize that there will be no differences in
permanency outcomes between kinship homes and formal foster homes.
Continuity of Care for Children in Kinship and Foster Care
Permanency may not be achieved for some of the reasons mentioned previously. This has
led researchers to also examine other relevant outcomes to better understand whether kinship care
may promote child wellbeing, or more specifically, placement stability or continuity of care. We
define placement stability by: 1) the cumulative length of time a child remained in placement over
the 12-month period and 2) the number of moves the child experienced within the year. Multiple
moves from home to home can be unsettling for children and often include changing schools,
disrupting friendships, and being uprooted from familiar neighbourhoods (Johnson, Yoken, & Voss,
1995; Shlonsky & Berrick, 2003). When placements are unstable, children do not gain a sense of
belonging or the ability to experience being part of a family.
Running away from placement (also known as AWOL behaviour) is another facet of
placement disruption. Because this behaviour poses another type of risk to children, we considered
AWOL behaviour independently of placement disruption. Children who run may place themselves
in unsafe situations and pose significant liability concerns for child welfare professionals.
Caseworkers spend a great deal of time searching for AWOL children, filing missing person reports
with police and completing bureaucratic paperwork to document their search efforts (Finkelstein,
Wamsely, Currie, & Miranda, 2004). While Connell et al (2006) found that children in group homes
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were two times more likely to run away than children in kinship care placements, little research can
be found on the differences in AWOL behaviour between children placed in kinship care and foster
homes. Research shows that placement into foster care can be traumatic for children and lead to a
range of problem behaviours (Hochstadt, Jaudes, Zimo, & Schacter, 1987). Because kin placements
are known to create a greater sense of family connectedness with a caregiver whom the child often
may know and trust (Cromer, 2007), we hypothesize that children in kinship will be less likely to run
from placement than children who are placed in foster homes.
We also examined placement stability, or the number of moves to different caregivers
experienced by children in either kinship or non-relative foster care homes. The research evidence
on placement stability and kinship care is compelling. Studies have found that children in kinship
homes have more stability in placement, compared to children in non-relative foster homes (Berrick
et al., 1994; Beeman, Hyungma, & Bullerdick, 2000; Testa & Rolock, 1999). The children placed in
kinship homes are less likely to experience multiple moves and are less likely to experience
placement disruption than children living in non-relative foster homes (Beeman et al., 2000; Berrick
et al, 1994; Chamberlain, Reid, Landsverk, Fisher, & Stoolminer, 2006; Iglehart, 1994; Koh, 2010;
Testa, 2001; Winokur et al., 2008; del Valle et al., 2009). These low disruption rates could be related
to the already existing relationship between the kinship caregiver and child. When kin have a level of
commitment to the child, the likelihood of a placement disruption is lower (Farmer, 2010).
Furthermore, placement disruption is significantly less likely for kin caregivers who also had been
licensed as foster parents, perhaps due to the more stringent approval process and/or the increased
level of support and financial assistance received by these caregivers (Farmer, 2010). Because of this
pre-existing relationship between kin and the children placed in their care, and the added support
received by kinship foster homes in Ontario, it is anticipated that children placed in kinship homes
will experience fewer moves than children placed in non-relative foster homes.
Sibling relationships also help to maintain family continuity. Children who have been
subjected to abuse or neglect may have especially strong attachments to one another (Lamb &
Sutton-Smith, 1982) and sibling relationships may provide a sense of continuity to children already
struggling with feelings of belongingness (Leathers, 2005). Because the maintenance of family ties
may be especially important to children who have already experienced significant loss and emotional
upheaval, professionals need to consider sibling bonds when removing children from parental care.
Research has found that children are more likely to stay with their siblings when placed with kin,
compared to children in non-kin foster care (Shlonsky, et al., 2003; Wulczyn & Zimmerman, 2005).
This research will aim to replicate this finding and examined whether children placed in kinship care
experienced fewer sibling disruptions compared to children in non-kin foster care.
Research Hypotheses
Few studies have examined Ontario child welfare transformation policies that have resulted
in increasing numbers of children placed in kinship care. This research compared standard foster
homes and kinship foster homes that received similar levels of financial support and services.
Kinship homes that do not receive the same support as foster homes were not included in this
study. The present study aims to add to the literature regarding two outcomes measures:
permanency and continuity of care.
We expected that, echoing prior research, there would be no significant difference in
permanency outcomes between children placed in kinship homes and children placed in non-relative
foster homes. Permanency is defined by three different possible outcomes: 1) reunification with a
biological parent 2) adoption, in which parenthood is given to an alternate adult other then the
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biological parent and 3) legal custody, in which authority for the child is given to an adult other
then the biological parent (Duerr Berrick, 1998). However, we anticipated that children placed in
kinship homes would have more positive outcomes than children in foster care with regard to other
measures of placement disruption. Specifically, we expected that children in kinship care would
have experienced fewer disruptions, measured by cumulative length of time in an initial placement
over a 12-month period and moves in placement, than would children placed in non-relative foster
homes. We also anticipated that children in kinship care would have engaged in less AWOL
behaviour than children placed in foster homes, and would be less likely to be separated from
siblings than children placed in foster homes.
Sample
Descriptive statistics for the sample are presented in Table 1. The sample consisted of 116
children who were in the care of the Society for a period of one year, commencing some time in
2008. Forty children were living with relatives in a kinship care situation and 76 children were living
in foster homes. The characteristics of children in both groups were similar. Ages ranged from 2 to
22 (M = 12.79, SD = 5.206). The majority of children living with kin lived with grandparents
(44.4%) or aunts or uncles (38.9%); the remaining children lived with older siblings, cousins,
neighbours or friends of the family. Information on child race was missing from 44 (37.9%)of the
case files. The children whose race was reported were of Caucasian descent (41.4%) followed by
African-Canadian (7.8%), Latino (2.6%), Asian (1.7), Bi-racial (4.3%), Middle-Eastern (.9%), or
Aboriginal (3.4 %).
Table. 1. Descriptive Statistics
Age
Percentage
Age 0-5 years
14.7
Age 6-10
Age 11-15
14.6
32.7
Age 16-20
Age 21+
36.1
1.9
Race
Caucasian
41.4
African Canadian
7.8
Bi-racial
Aboriginal
Latino
Asian
Middle Easter
4.7
3.4
2.6
1.7
0.9
Legal Status
Crown Ward
75.9
Society Ward
13.8
TCA
Other
3.4
6.9
Access to Parent
None
33.7
1-3 times per week
25.7
More than 4 times per week
2.0
Overnights
Other
10.9
27.7
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Relationship to Kinship Caregiver
Grandchild
44.4
Niece/Nephew
38.9
Friend/Neighbour
5.6
Younger Sibling
Cousin
Other
2.8
2.8
5.5
Placement Type
Foster Care
65.5
Kinship Care
34.5
Siblings
No
14.8
Yes
85.2
Number of cases
116
Method
We used a computer-based, random sampling procedure to select cases that met the criteria
of children living in kinship care or foster care under the responsibility of a child welfare office in
Ontario for a one-year continuous period beginning sometime in 2008. Data collection consisted of
file reviews of a random sample of 116 case files. Nine files originally chosen were not reviewed due
to a lack of sufficient information (files could not be found or parts were missing). Permanency
outcomes were examined during the period beginning with initial placement until February 2011.
Depending on the month in which the child entered care in 2008, the follow-up period varied
between 2 to 3 years. Extracted information included child characteristics, cumulative time in
current placement, number of moves, reason for placement disruption, access to parents, sibling
separation, court application and child’s permanency status as of February 2011.
Due to Institutional Review Board considerations, we report a limited number of
demographic characteristics. Specifically, given the relatively small number of children in foster or
kinship care during the one-year period under analysis, to maintain confidentiality the demographic
information on kinship and foster parents was not collected. However, numerous prior studies have
indicated that kinship families experience higher rates of poverty (Berrick, Barth, & Needell, 1994;
Cuddeback, 2004; Ehrle & Geen, 2002; LeProhn, 1994; Shlonsky & Berrick, 2001; Zimmerman,
Daykin, Moore, Wuu, & Li, 1998) and lower rates of education (Berrick et al., 1994; Dubowitz,
Feigelman, & Zuravin, 1993; Iglehart, 1994; LeProhn, 1994; Zimmerman et al., 1998) than non-
relative foster parents. Kinship caregivers are more likely to be single (Barth, Courtney, Duerr-
Berrick, & Albert, 1994; Cuddeback, 2004; LeProhn, 1994; Scannapieco, Hegar, & McAlpine, 1997),
unemployed (Cuddeback, 2004) and in a lower socioeconomic class (Brooks & Barth, 1998;
Cuddeback, 2004). Kinship caregivers tend to be older than traditional foster parents, and a large
number of them are over 60 years of age (Barth et al, 1994; Berrick et al., 1994, LeProhn, 1994).
Data Analysis and Results
To address the first question of whether children placed in kinship homes experience fewer
disruptions and moves in placement than did children placed in foster homes, an independent
groups t-test compared the mean cumulative length of time a child remained in the same foster
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home in a 12-month period (M = 10.64, SD = 3.14) with that of the cumulative length of time a
child remained in the same kinship placement over a 12-month period (M = 10.37, SD = 3.14). This
test was found to be statistically non-significant (t (114) = .667, p .05). An independent groups t-
test compared the mean number of moves for children in foster care over a 12-month period (M =
1.554, SD = 1.81) with the mean number of moves for children in kinship care over a 12-month
period (M = 1.65, SD = 1.31). The type of placement was not associated with the number of moves
a child experienced in a 12-month period (t (114) = .33, p .05). As hypothesized the type of
placement was not associated with the length of time a child remained in the same placement nor
was it associated with the mean number of placements the child experienced over a 12-month
period. A chi-square test was conducted to examine the relationship between placement type and the
child’s permanency outcome. Thirty children in the sample had moved onto independent living, and
were therefore removed from the analysis. Data was not available for 13 of the examined cases.
When permanency outcomes were examined by group status, the test was found to be statistically
significant
χ2
(1, N= 90) = 3.73, p < .05 indicating that there was a statistical association between
care status (kinship care vs. foster care) in children’s likelihood of having achieved legal permanency.
While statistically significant, the Cramer’s V statistic indicated a weak relationship of .21.
We also examined children’s running away or AWOL behaviour. A child’s running away or
otherwise leaving the placement without permission was not considered a placement disruption if
the child returned to the original placement. Chi-square test analysis indicated that kinship care
placement was associated with more running away behaviour when compared to children in foster
care(
χ2
(2, N=116) = 6.43, p < .05). Most of the children in this sample had a sibling (85%). Next we
examined whether those children with a sibling experienced separation from their sibling or siblings
during placement. Also as hypothesized, children in foster care were more likely to be separated
from their siblings when compared to children in kinship care (
χ2
(5, N= 99) = 8.91, p < .01). As
indexed by the Phi statistic, the strength of the relationship was of a medium effect size at .30.
Finally, we examined whether child delinquent behaviour, medical problem and age were
associated with placement type (kinship care or foster care). These tests yielded no significant
results, indicating that these child characteristics were not associated with placement type.
Table 2. Bivariate Analysis Examining Study Variables by Placement Type (Kinship vs. Foster Care)
Foster
M or %
Kinship
M or %
Bivariate Results
10.64
10.37
t(114) = .667, n.s.
1.55
1.64
t(114) = .326, n.s.
2.6%
6.1%
χ
2 (2, N=116) = 6.43*
17.7%
9.3%
χ
2 (2, N=90) = 3.73*
74.6%
25.4%
χ
2 (5, N=99) = 8.91**
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34.6%
11.2%
χ
2 (2, N=116) = 5.11, n.s.
12.4%
4.4%
χ
2 (3, N=116) = 3.06, n.s.
12.13
15.05
χ
2 (114, N=116)=1.91,n.s.
*ρ <.05, **ρ<.01, n.s. = not significant at p < .05.
Note: M = mean, items 1 – 2 are independent samples t-tests; items 3 – 8 are chi-square analysis
Discussion
Children need supportive and consistent relationships with parents or other caregivers to
thrive (Bass, Shields, & Behrman, 2004; Harden, 2004). Recent Ontario legislation was based on the
premise that kinship caregivers offer more permanent solutions for children. However, there is
conflicting empirical evidence regarding the potential benefits of kinship care. Upon removing a
child from parental care, professionals making placement decisions should carefully consider the
likelihood that a child will be placed with an individual who can provide a stable home environment
and a sense of belonging. Results of this study indicated that placement type was associated with
permanency outcomes. Specifically, children living in foster homes were more likely than peers
residing in formal kinship care to have achieved permanency in the two to three years following their
initial placement. Children living in foster homes were more likely to have been adopted, in the legal
custody of an alternate caregiver, or reunified with their parent than the children who were in
kinship care relationships.
There may be several reasons why kinship placement status was associated with fewer
permanent solutions. When children are placed in kinship care and are living with relatives, parents
often have more liberal access to their children and feel less stigmatization about placement. As a
result, parents may be less motivated to work toward reunification (Geen, 2003). In addition, kin
may be more reluctant to adopt the children in their care while they hold out hope for parental
change. Also they may be fearful of inciting familial conflict, should they choose to terminate
parental rights (Thornton, 1991; Geen, 2003). Moreover, kin may be less likely to adopt children in
their care, viewing it as unnecessary (McLean & Thomas, 1996). It is also possible that kin caregivers
who receive a per diem rate may be more reluctant to obtain legal custody or pursue adoption,
fearful that taking these steps will terminate the family’s involvement with child welfare, including
the end of any financial support. The current study was not able to directly examine these possible
explanations for why kinship placement was associated with fewer permanency outcomes, and
future research on permanency should consider these factors.
With the growing popularity of kinship care, children’s need for permanence should be
considered throughout decision-making. The Ontario legislation promotes the idea of legal
permanence, with a recurring theme of strengths-based empowerment and the belief that “families
are architects of their own lives” (Tansony & Whelan, 2006, p. 22). Yet, the results of this study
suggest that placement with kin is not associated with higher rates of legal permanency for children.
It may not be realistic to expect that permanence can happen without the ongoing involvement of
child protective services. When legal permanence is not achieved, the need for child welfare
involvement and monitoring continues.
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This study raises some uncertainly about the ability of kinship arrangements to provide
permanent legal arrangements for children. Even when we factor out kinship-arrangement issues
such as a lack of financial support or inadequate service provision, kinship arrangements are not
providing children with a sense of forever that comes from legal arrangements. It should be noted
however that this study defined permanency from a legal perspective. Permanency can also be
defined and informed by attachment theory and whether children have lasting families, even in the
absence of a legally binding adoption arrangement (Geen 2003; Tilbury & Osmond, 2006). Future
examination that defines permanency through attachment theory may yield different results.
When considering family relationships, the importance of preserving sibling bonds cannot
be overlooked. Our research found that children placed in kinship care were less likely to be
separated from their siblings than those children in foster care. The numbers were quite dramatic,
with 50 of the 64 children in foster care separated from their siblings at some point in the 12-month
period, compared to 17 of the 34 children in kinship care. While some of the children in this study
were separated from their siblings after a brother or sister remained in the care of a parent (n=29), in
many situations, siblings who remain with parents initially, then enter foster care at a later date, are
often placed in a different home than the one in which the sibling was previously placed (Ward,
1984). Best practice would dictate that when children must be removed from their parents’ care, they
should be placed with their brothers and sisters (Hegar, 1988). Because of the low number of
available beds in foster homes and Ministry standards that do not allow children of the opposite sex
to share a bedroom, placing siblings together can be a difficult task. In kinship homes that do not
already have foster children, spacing issues may be less of a concern.
Despite considerable evidence that children are less likely to experience multiple moves in
kinship care, this study found no differences in continuity of care between the two groups of
caregivers. Placements remained relatively stable over the 12-month period, with few moves
occurring over that period in either custody type. It is possible that having similar supports and
services available to licensed kinship caregivers and kinship foster homes contributed to the lack of
different findings or could speak to incredibly dedicated foster parents and kinship caregivers. These
findings may be explained by more stringent approval process utilized for Ontario kinship caregivers
and the efforts to ensure a good fit between kinship caregivers and their young relatives prior to
placement. Furthermore, the transformation agenda increased expectations of foster parents and
tightened requirements for approval. An unexpected finding was that children who live in kinship
homes were more likely to run away or engage in AWOL behaviour. It has been shown that kinship
homes struggle with setting boundaries around visitation (Crumbley & Little, 1997) and, because
children who live with kin often remain in their own neighbourhoods (Duerr Berrick et al., 1994;
Messing, 2006), this finding may suggest that children in kinship care run away to return to their
original caregiver. Research conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice supports this assumption.
Children who go AWOL are typically known to stay with friends or extended family (Finkelstein et
al., 2004). In spite of literature that posits that children are less traumatized by placement with their
relatives (Gleeson & Craig, 1994) and that they were more likely to feel “safe” and “happy” in their
living situation, compared to children living in foster care (Wilson & Conroy, 1999), children
engaging in running behaviour seem to be reacting to dissatisfaction with their living situation. It
should be noted that while this finding was significant, the actual numbers of children engaging in
AWOL behaviour in both groups were quite low.
We did not find any significant differences when examining children’s behaviour, medical
problem, or age in relation to permanent outcomes or continuity of care. These findings contradict
past studies that have found the child’s age to be closely related to kinship placement disruption,
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with older children being more likely to experience disruption (Farmer, 2010; Terling-Watt, 2001;
Webster, Barth, & Needell, 2000) and other findings that suggest that child behaviour and
adversities are associated with more breakdowns in foster home settings. While Farmer (2010) and
Koh et al (2008) found that kinship caregivers are more likely to persevere with misbehaving
children, and foster parents are more likely to request replacement, our research did not find such
differences nor did we find that children with multiple health difficulties are more likely to live in
foster homes than kinship homes (Farmer, 2009, Koh et al., 2008).
We also examined the effects of a health problem and child’s age to determine if there were
any differences in the types of children placed in kinship care or foster care. These tests yielded no
significant results, which contradicts past studies, that found that older children are more likely to
live with kin and children with disabilities are more likely to be placed in foster homes (Koh et al.,
2008).
Limitations
This study has placed a strong reliance on the accuracy of file records and caseworker
documentation. Interviews of caseworkers, foster parents and kinship caregivers might have
provided a richer understanding of the variables under review. However, this data was not available.
Additionally, although relying on caseworker report only may introduce some bias, it is quite
common in child welfare research to rely on administrative reports such as file records by
caseworkers (An-Pyng, Freese, & Fitzgerald, 2007; Bundy-Fazioli, Winokur, & Delong-Hamilton,
2009; Potter & Klein-Rothsfield, 2002).
All of the children included in this study were placed with kin who were approved as formal
foster placements and therefore excluded children living with kin in informal situations. The reality
for children in informal arrangements may be very different from the sample chosen for this study.
Further, the one-year time period for examining placement continuity is limiting. Looking at a longer
duration of time may have yielded different results.
Caution should also be used in recognizing the limited generalizability of the study sample.
All of the families whose records were reviewed lived in the specific geographical area in Ontario,
and therefore this research may not be generalizable to the larger Canadian population. For example,
as reflective of the Ontario population, the sample was predominately Caucasian. Future studies
should consider a more diverse sample.
Despite these limitations, the current study provides useful information on outcomes for
children. While a major tenet of Ontario child welfare transformation is that kinship care improves
permanency for children, some of the findings in this current study suggest that kinship care was not
associated with improved permanency outcomes. In fact, children living in foster homes were found
to have more success in achieving a permanent legal placement. The placement type had no bearing
on the number of moves a child experienced. Again, this contradicts one of the benefits believed to
be a part of the policy revisions. We did find that children placed with kin were more likely to be
placed together with their siblings. Certainly, the need to maintain sibling relationships cannot be
overstated. This is a clear benefit of placing children with kinship caregivers and should always be
considered in decision-making.
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... This placement type is preferred as it maintains family connection and cultural ties for the child. Thus, over the past two decades, kinship care has increased significantly as compared to traditional settings (Bramlett, Radel, & Chow, 2017;Brisebois & Lee, 2012;CWIG, 2018). In 2017, 140,675 American children were living in kinship foster care arrangements, making up 32% of all foster care placements and reflecting a steady increase over the past decade (Administration for Children andFamilies, 2008, 2018). ...
... Importantly, the arrangements for kinship care vary significantly in terms of requirements for screening, monitoring, support, and evaluation procedures among states, provinces, and territories (Chipman, Wells, & Johnson, 2002;Child Welfare Information Gateway [CWIG], 2016Fallon, Trocme, MacLaurin, Sinha, & Helie, 2015;PHAC, 2019). For example, kinship caregivers may not be required to meet the same monitoring and licensing agreement standards as non-relative foster care parents and may not be provided with the same financial support or training (Brisebois & Lee, 2012;CWIG, 2016;Harding, Murray, Shakespeare-Finch, & Frey, 2020;Fallon et al., 2015). Caseworkers have reported the lack of resources and difficulty monitoring as two important challenges associated with kinship placement settings (Brisebois, 2013). ...
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Kinship foster care placements have become significantly more prevalent in both Canada and the United States. However, there are limited resources for child protection services (CPS) workers to assess the quality of the kinship caregiver placements. Although several measures exist to screen caregivers for general foster care, there are no instruments available for the assessment of quality in kinship foster care. Thus, the current study reexamined a kinship caregiver assessment using data from a study conducted at the Children and Family Research Center (CFRC). Inter-item and item-scale reliability coefficients were calculated for caregiver responses (N = 37) using Cronbach’s alpha and ordinal alpha through polychoric correlation matrices. Analyses revealed five distinct scales with good internal consistency (ordinal α > .75), suggesting a useful assessment tool. With the continuing shift to increased kinship placements, it is important that CPS workers have access to validated measures for this placement setting. Findings provide an innovative kinship caregiver measure to be used in the field of child welfare, and support further research in this area.
... Shlonsky, Bellamy, Elkins, and Ashare (2005) found that the likelihood of co-placement increased threefold if the siblings in question were to be placed in a kin home with relatives. Similarly, Brisebois and Lee (2012) found that that siblings who were going to a kin care home were more likely to be co-placed. ...
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The philosophy that siblings entering foster care should be placed together (co-placed) rather than separated has endured throughout both the policies and practices of child welfare. The underlying belief seems to be that co-placement can alleviate trauma and the presence of a sibling may ease the difficulties of transition to care. The authors conducted a literature review to identify the empirical evidence that would support what may appear to be a practiceinformed rationale. While certain predictors of co-placement such as matched gender, age, and age differences among siblings recur throughout the literature, outcomes of co-placement have been identified less consistently. With regard to placement and access, the opinions and wishes of children in care need to be considered in practice as well as in theory. While it appears that co-placement can be generally encouraged, workers should identify the quality of the attachment between siblings before decisions are made.
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The increase in children entering foster care, together with a range of other political, economic, and social factors, has helped fuel the newest phenomenon in the child welfare system - a substantial proportion of children in formal kinship care. Kinship care is defined as out-of-home placement with relatives of children who are in the custody of state and local child welfare agencies. The authors present a review of previous research and report on a study that examined differences and similarities between kinship and traditional foster care in Baltimore County, Maryland, a suburban county that surrounds the city of Baltimore. This study supports many earlier conclusions concerning kinship care, such as children remain in care longer, caregivers are primarily African American, and services provided by kin are less extensive than those provided by traditional foster parents.
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This article reports on a study comparing the performance of a professional foster care program and two specialized programs in Cook County, Illinois, with random samples of kinship and nonrelative family foster homes. Professional and kinship foster care consistently outperformed the specialized programs and the nonrelative care in terms of stability, sibling placement, restrictiveness of care, and proximity to the child's community of origin. While the former two program types also do slightly better than the latter in achieving permanent living situations, the professional foster care program had difficulty moving children to adoptive homes or subsidized guardianship. Implications of these differences for the evolution of family foster care in the next century are considered.
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This article reports the findings of a survey that explored the attitudes and attributes of nonrelative family foster caregivers and kinship caregivers for children adjudicated dependent and placed by a state public child welfare agency. A self-administered questionnaire was used to gather demographic information and to determine caregivers' attitudes toward physical discipline, and their perceptions of the children in their care, their behaviors, and the level of support from the agency. Significant differences were found on several demographic variables, in the frequency of caseworker contacts, and in perceptions and attitudes. The implications of these findings are discussed.
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Research on siblings in foster care has been limited to date, despite the fact that most children in out-of-home care also have siblings in system. Using administrative data, this Study examines a cross-section (N = 35,216) of foster children in a large metropolitan area of the Western United States to determine the factors associated with intact sibling placement. Starting care at the same time, placement in relative care, and matched gendered pairs were highly associated with intact sibling placement, while age and placement in group care were negatively associated. A discussion in light of recent legislation is presented.
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This article provides a comprehensive look at the elements that indicate quality of care in kinship and nonrelated foster homes, highlighting the philosophical reasons for providing quality care and the theoretical underpinnings of kinship care. The sparse literature on quality of care in foster homes is then augmented with indicators of quality in nonfoster homes, identifying a series of domains of quality. By articulating these domains we intend to frame an understanding of quality of care, to provide a guide for constructing a quality assessment tool for kinship and nonrelated foster homes, and to promote quality improvement in these vital areas.
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This study compares the permanency outcomes of children in kinship foster care with a matched sample of children in nonkinship foster care in Illinois. It addresses the issue of selection bias by using propensity score matching (PSM) to balance mean differences in the characteristics of children in kinship and nonkinship foster homes. The data come from the March 1998 to September 2007 six-month files submitted by the state of Illinois to the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting Systems (AFCARS). A longitudinal sample of linked records for 21,914 kin children and 10,108 non-kin children was created, and a random subsample of 1,500 children in nonkinship care was matched to the kinship sample by using PSM. The permanency outcomes and placement stability of children in kin and non-kin foster care in the matched sample of 3,000 are compared with both cross-tabular and survival analysis. Prior to matching, differences in reunification rates, combined adoption and guardianship rates, and placement stability are all significant. After matching, the differences in permanency rates disappear. Children in nonkinship foster homes still show a higher risk for initial placement disruption after matching, but there is no difference in rates of instability within a year compared with children in kinship foster homes. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.