May 06, 2020 Article

Advocating for Kinship Placement during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Placement with kin is more important now than ever before.

By Andrew Cohen and Cathy Krebs

We are monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation as it relates to law and litigation. Find more resources and articles on our COVID-19 portal. For the duration of the crisis, all coronavirus-related articles are outside the Section of Litigation paywall and available to all readers.

The ABA Section of Litigation Children’s Rights Litigation Committee and the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Children and Family Law Division are currently working on a tool for lawyers that compiles and summarizes key clinical research on the benefits of kinship foster care. We anticipate completing that tool in August 2020. Given the current pandemic, however, we are releasing “talking points” and helpful links from that tool now in order to help lawyers advocate for the placement of children into kinship homes rather than non-kinship foster homes. 

Research shows that kinship foster care often leads to better outcomes for children than non-kinship foster care. Kinship foster care results in fewer placements, better mental and physical health, fewer behavior problems, and higher levels of competence for children. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, children placed with kin are more likely to have parent-child contact and sibling contact—whether in person or by electronic means—than those placed in non-kinship foster homes. In other words, placement with kin is more important now than ever before.

Talking Points for Trial Counsel on the Benefits of Placement with Kin

Studies referenced in the talking points are listed in full in the bibliography at the end of this document.

  • Children should be placed with kin immediately upon removal from home. The earlier a child is placed with kin caregivers, the lower his or her risk for later behavioral problems (Rubin et al. 2008).
  • Children placed with kin, as opposed to those placed in non-kinship foster homes, have:
    • Improved academic performance, social skills, and involvement in extracurricular activities (Keller et al. 2001).
    • Fewer behavioral problems (Holtan 2005; Keller et al. 2001), particularly for children initially placed in kinship care (as opposed to kinship placement following a period of foster placement) (Rubin et al. 2008; Pabustan-Claar 2007).
    • Greater placement stability, fewer emotional and social problems, and better connections to their families and social communities (Aila 2019; Conway 2007).
    • Half the incidence of mental illness than those placed in non-kinship foster care (Winokur et al. 2018; Sakai et al. 2011).
    • Fewer placements (Koh 2010; Koh 2008) with significantly fewer instances of four or more placements (Webster et al. 2000). Children placed with kin are 2.6 times less likely than those placed with non-kin to have three or more placements (Winokur et al. 2018).
    • Shorter periods of placement and lower rates of foster care re-entry (Koh & Testa 2011).
    • Improved self-esteem, greater self-reported social support, and greater caregiver satisfaction (Metzger 2008).
    • Increased attachment to caregivers, particularly in placements with siblings (Hegar & Rosenthal 2009). Children placed with kin are less likely to run away or miss their family and are more likely to view the placement as a permanent home (Chapman 2004).
    • Increased likelihood of being placed with siblings; 53.5 percent of children with three or more siblings in care were placed together in kinship homes compared to 1.8 percent of children in traditional foster homes. For children with one or two siblings, 80 percent of children were placed together with kin as opposed to 66.9 percent of children in traditional foster homes (Epstein 2017).
    • Continuity of community, social support network, and schools (Epstein 2017; Holtan 2005).
    • Fewer school changes (Epstein 2017).
    • Improved academic performance (Hegar & Rosenthal 2009).
    • Reduced stigma and trauma associated with separation from parents (Paxman 2006; Messing 2006; Epstein 2017).
    • Far less involvement with the juvenile justice system, with children in foster care being six times more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system compared to children in kinship care (Winokur et al. 2008; Winokur et al. 2006).
    • Better maintenance of relationships with birth parents (Epstein 2017; Winokur et al. 2008; Pabustan-Claar 2007; Holtan 2005; Chapman 2004; Testa & Rolock 1999; Berrick 1997).
  • Kinship foster care is better for both the child and the caregiver because it:
    • Reduces the child’s stress and improves the child’s coping mechanisms (In Loving Arms 2017; Metzger 2008).
    • Fosters better relations with caregivers and improves caregiver satisfaction (Metzger 2008).
    • Facilitates stronger relationships within the family and nurtures the child’s social development (Pabustan-Claar 2007).
    • Gives the child more connections to their families and socio-cultural environments (Sugrue 2019).
    • Lowers rates of re-entry into the foster care system following discharge due to reunification or guardianship than non-kinship foster care (Koh & Testa 2011; Winokur et al. 2008).
    • Increases likelihood of geographic proximity to a child’s parents (Testa & Rolock 1999).

Navigating COVID-19 Barriers to Kinship Placements

The current pandemic and resulting stay at home orders have resulted in some barriers to placement of children in kinship foster homes. For example, in-person home visits by social workers to a potential placement resource may be a challenge or even impossible in some jurisdictions. It is imperative that lawyers think and advocate creatively so that children can still be placed safely in kinship homes. As resources are published and shared to assist you in navigating these barriers, we will post them here. If you have a resource to share on this topic, please let us know.

Fingerprinting is required for IV-E eligibility but may be a challenge during COVID-19. Think of Us has created a resource to assist in navigating around this barrier.

Supporting Kinship Placements during COVID-19

For helpful resources to best support kinship caregivers amid this national health crisis, visit Grandfamilies.org and Generations United.

For more information on how to work with your state and local governments to leverage resources that serve kinship families, see this tool created by Generations United—Supporting Grandfamilies through the COVID-19 Crisis, a tool for educating state and local decisionmakers.

Additional Resources on the Benefits of Kinship Care

Bibliography of Studies Cited in the Talking Points

Jill Duerr Berrick, Assessing Quality of Care in Kinship and Foster Family Care, 46 Fam. Rel. 273 (1997).

Mimi V. Chapman et al., Children’s Voices: The Perceptions of Children in Foster Care, 74 Am. J. Orthopsychiatry 293 (2004).

Tiffany Conway & Rutledge Q. Hutson, Ctr. for L. & Soc. Pol’y, Is Kinship Care Good for Kids?, (Mar. 2, 2007).

Heidi Redlich Epstein, Kinship Care is Better for Children and Families, 36 Child L. Prac. Today 77 (2017).

Rebecca L. Hegar & James A. Rosenthal, Kinship Care and Sibling Placement: Child Behavior, Family Relationships, and School Outcomes, 31 Child. & Youth Servs. Rev. 670 (2009).

Amy Holtan et al., A Comparison of Mental Health Problems in Kinship and Nonkinship Foster Care, 14 European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 200 (2005). 

Thomas Keller et al., Competencies and Problem Behaviors of Children in Family Foster Care: Variations by Kinship Placement Status and Race, 23 Child. & Youth Servs. Rev. 915 (2001).

Eun Koh, Permanency Outcomes of Children in Kinship and Non-Kinship Foster Care: Testing the External Validity of Kinship Effects, 32 Child. & Youth Servs. Rev. 389 (2010).

Eun Koh & Mark F. Testa, Propensity Score Matching of Children in Kinship and Nonkinship Foster Care: Do Permanency Outcomes Still Differ?, 32 Soc. Work Res. 105 (2008).

Eun Koh & Mark F. Testa, Children Discharged from Kin and Non-Kin Foster Homes: Do the Risks of Foster Care Re-Entry Differ?, 33 Child. & Youth Servs. Rev. 1497 (2011).

Jill Theresa Messing, From the Child’s Perspective: A Qualitative Analysis of Kinship Care Placements, 28 Child. & Youth Servs. Rev. 1415 (2006).

Jed Metzger, Resiliency in Children and Youth in Kinship Care and Family Foster Care, 87 Child Welfare 115 (2008).

Jennifer Pabustan-Claar, Achieving Permanence in Foster Care for Young Children: A Comparison of Kinship and Non-Kinship Placements, 16 J. Ethic & Cultural Diversity Soc. Work 61 (2007).

Marina Paxman, Ctr. For Parenting & Res., Outcome for Children and Young People in Kinship Care: An Issues Paper, (2006).

David M. Rubin et al., Impact of Kinship Care on Behavioral Well-Being for Children in Out-of-Home Care, 162 Arch. Pediatr. & Adolesc. Med. 550 (2008).

Christina Sakai et al., Health Outcomes and Family Services in Kinship Care, Analysis of a National Sample of Children in the Child Welfare System, 165 Arch. Pediatr. & Adolesc. Med. 159 (2011).

State of Grandfamilies 2017: In Loving Arms: The Protective Role of Grandparents and Other Relatives in Raising Children Exposed to Trauma, Generations United (2017).

Erin Sugrue, Evidence Base for Avoiding Family Separation in Child Welfare Practice: An Analysis of Current Research, Aila (July 2019).

Mark F. Testa & Nancy Rolock, Professional Foster Care: A Future Worth Pursuing?, 78 Child Welfare 108 (1999).

Daniel Webster, Richard Barth & Barbara Needell, Placement Stability for Children in Out-of-Home Care: A Longitudinal Analysis, 79 Child Welfare 614 (2000).

Marc A. Winokur et al., Matched Comparison of Children in Kinship Care and Foster Care on Child Welfare Outcomes, 89 Families In Soc’y:  j. Contemp. Soc. Servs. 338 (2008).

Marc A. Winokur et al., Systematic Review of Kinship Care Effects on Safety, Permanency, and Well-Being Outcomes, 28 Res. on Soc. Work & Prac. 19 (2018).

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Andrew Cohen is the director of Appellate Panel at Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services in their Children and Family Law Division, and Cathy Krebs is the director of the Children's Rights Litigation Committee. 

Special thank you to Corey Jacobson, a legal intern at Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services in their Children and Family Law Division, and DLA Piper LLP (US) for their research assistance.


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