Black/African American and American Indian/Alaskan Native children are more likely to live in kinship families, which may be partially rooted in cultural values of family and community connection (Bertera & Crew, 2013; U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). Kinship caregivers are disproportionately black, female, unmarried, and more likely to live below the poverty line (Generations United, 2021; U.S. Census Beareu, 2019). Yet, kinship families experience multi-faceted disparities in supports compared to foster families, which is also a racial equity issue. Nationally, unlicensed kinship caregivers received less than half of financial support (child-only TANF) compared to foster parents, with larger discrepancies as more children are in care (GOA, 2011). It is estimated that kinship families save taxpayers $4 billion annually (Generations United, 2021), but kinship families - already more likely to be financially vulnerable - are not benefiting from these savings. In fact, economic disadvantage and material hardship have been linked to increased stress and poorer mental health for kinship caregivers (Butler & Zakari, 2005; Xu, Wu, Levkoff, & Jedwab 2020).
This roundtable session will be framed by triangulating the perspectives of caregivers, professionals, and researchers where we consider: (1) inequities in supports between foster families and informal kinship families; (2) challenges in navigating state benefits and barriers to caregiver licensing; (3) the intersection of race and preexisting socioeconomic disparities for kinship families and (4) potential impacts of COVID-19 on access to supports and wellbeing for kinship families.
We will facilitate conversation exploring inequities of supports from both a micro and macro-level, with varying perspectives. A researcher, who has led focus groups on this topic, will highlight different types of kinship and foster care benefits afforded to each. A researcher and kinship caregiver support group leader will share an overview of support systems caregivers must navigate, noting where systemic barriers and inequities occur, and differing approaches between states. A kinship caregiver and strong community advocate will share the challenges for caregivers as a result of these disparities, the potential impact of COVID-19 on access to services, and a call for equitable community-based and government-funded supports for all kinship families. A child welfare professional will share on policy and practice factors influencing access to supports, as well as plausible solutions within the child welfare system from a preventative lens. Our goal is to facilitate honest discussion recognizing the importance of kinship families for child wellbeing, the devastating effects of disparities in supports, with an invitation to brainstorm research, practice, and policy solutions to this critical issue.