The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

A Qualitative Study Examining Kin Diversion

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:00 PM
Nautilus 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Karin E. Malm, MS, Director, Child Trends, Washington, DC
Patricia M. Carlson, PhD, Senior Research Associate, Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Haven, CT
Tiffany Allen, MSW, Research Scientist, Child Trends, Washington, DC
Background and Purpose. With increased national focus on strengthening prevention services and engaging the entire family network in making decisions about maltreated and at-risk children, there has also been an increased interest in the practice of diverting children to the care of relatives or other kin rather than the child entering custody. This practice occurs at some level in most public child welfare systems, yet few jurisdictions collect data on its use and its effect on children and families. The purpose of the study was to uncover the rationale for the practice, factors influencing its use, and the decision-making processes.

Methods. Kinship diversion practice was examined through extensive field work in six local jurisdictions in one state. Site visits were conducted and included interviews with administrators, program managers, and court personnel and focus groups with caseworkers, unit supervisors, and kinship caregivers. We utilized two-phase content analysis procedures based on an initial set of assumptions and research questions. We used open coding to capture the respondents’ perspectives, attitudes, and beliefs and then utilized pattern coding to refine and organize emergent themes and to group the initial codes into a smaller group of constructs.

Results. We defined kinship diversion as the agency facilitating the placement of children with relatives when the children cannot remain safely at home and we assumed the determination to remove a child is made before diversions are arranged. We found that the steps to kinship diversion are not linear, and the decision-making is often compounded by other factors and other decisions simultaneously. Contrary to hypotheses that diverting children to live with kin allows agencies to avoid providing in-home services, we found that these services were viewed as the preferred option and agencies provided these services when resources were available. We also found that diversion is occurring at all stages of a case, and the timing affects the type of worker involved in the decision making. Two important components of kinship diversion were assessments of relatives to determine their appropriateness to care for the child and information provided to relatives about access to and availability of services. We found a lack of policies and consistent instruction to determine which situations require an assessment, and at what point in the process the caregiver assessment is appropriate. Assessments of relatives were almost always case specific and ranged from criminal background and home safety checks to determination of whether the caregiver can provide financially for the child. We also found that information about foster parent licensure and available services and supports was not consistently provided to relatives and provision of information was dependent on the judgment of the caseworker.

Conclusions and Implications. Kinship diversion has implications for child welfare practice regarding family engagement and public agency responsibility. In addition, diversion has implications for child welfare policies and funding priorities. Inconsistencies in diversion practices point to the need for further examination of the practice and establishment of standards. The findings challenge administrators to directly address the strengths and drawbacks of this practice.