May 01, 2014

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Children Placed with Kin

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

A recent Chapin Hall study found that many children in kinship care have unmet mental health needs. The study, part of Chapin Hall’s evaluation of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ integrated assessment program, also found a relationship between child welfare agency caseworker’s concerns about kinship caregivers and the child’s receipt of mental health services after an assessment.

Among the children studied, 28.4% needed mental health services, yet within six months of placement in kinship care just 14.2% had received those services. 

Caseworkers in the study were asked to rate the kin caregiver’s ability to meet the child’s needs. The ratings revealed 25% of the children were placed with caregivers about whom the caseworkers expressed some concern. The concerns included the caregiver’s knowledge and ability to ensure the child received treatment (identified by 7.7% of caseworkers). A second concern was resources, both financial and social, to allow the caregiver to meet the child’s and family’s needs (identified by 7.2% of caseworkers).

The researchers cautioned against using the caseworkers’ concerns as a reason not to place children with kin caregivers. Rather, the takeaway was that improving supports for caregivers to maintain healthy placements, and including kin caregivers in children’s mental health assessments are important. Ensuring resources, supports, and services are in place for kin caregivers so they can help children access and participate in services is also needed. This includes helping kin caregivers understand available and appropriate services for children placed with them.

The study also recommended that front-end child welfare assessments identify a child’s need for mental health services and the caregiver’s ability to meet those needs. As efforts continue at the federal level to broaden kinship care, ensuring mental health resources, services, and education opportunities for kin caregivers is key.

The study, “Unmet Mental Health Service Needs in Kinship Care: The Importance of Assessing and Supporting Caregivers,” by Cheryl Smithgall, was published in the Journal of Family Social Work 16(5), 2013.