LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers have secured a grant to help support children’s relatives and family members to care for them when they are removed from their parents’ home and placed in the foster system. The project, known as Kansas Invests in Families, or KinVest, will improve policy and practices as well as provide resources to caregivers and those working across the foster care system, all with the goal of recognizing the importance of family in children’s lives.
This five-year, $2.5 million grant to KU is one of only five awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families Children’s Bureau. The grant will focus on improving stability and well-being for children removed from their homes by supporting placement with a family member or a person with whom they have a close relationship, such as relatives or kin. The goal is to promote shared parenting principles that guide kin caregivers, foster parents, staff, courts and other professionals in working supportively with parents and families of origin while their children are in foster care.
“If a child has to be placed in foster care, being in a situation where their relatives or kin is involved is very beneficial for their physical, social and emotional health. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen,” said Becci Akin, associate professor of social welfare at KU.
Akin will serve as the principal investigator and project director of the grant, leading implementation of the work, along with co-director Amanda Brown, associate researcher in the KU School of Social Welfare.
KinVest will continue the KU team’s statewide partnership with the Kansas Department for Children and Families and include the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, Foster Adopt Connect, Kansas Family Advisory Network and the private providers of child welfare services across the state.
KinVest will develop a comprehensive model of training and resources for kin caregivers that can be delivered on-demand, in person or online to parents, kin caregivers and foster parents. Training will be delivered to staff at caregiving agencies as well so that staff and families have aligned training in supportive values and practices. This program aligns with Kansas DCF’s 2021 efforts to become a Kin First state, where networks of extended family and other supportive people in the child’s life are identified as soon as the child welfare system becomes engaged.
“We want to provide support for the people who are important in a child’s life. Our goal is to create learning opportunities across the entire system by working with families, professionals, agencies and court partners,” Brown said. “In supporting placements with relatives/kin first, we might prevent children from entering the foster care system at all.”
In addition to providing training and resources, KinVest will work to review and update policies that affect kinship families. The program partners will review policy in conjunction with volunteers from local advisory boards across the state. The policy review will then be presented to state policymakers to address barriers to placing children with relatives/kin and provide recommendations to better serve children and families.
Akin shared the example of a child living in Kansas near the Missouri border. If that child is removed from the home, it can be exceedingly difficult to place them with a grandparent who lives in Missouri. Though not prevented by law, placing a child in a home in another state requires excessive paperwork, and children can often end up placed in a home two hours away in Kansas with strangers instead of 15 minutes away in Missouri with a family member. Addressing such policies could go a long way in better serving families, researchers said.
Many states have goals of placing children in kin care. In Kansas, that goal is 50%, although the current average rate of placement with kin is less than 40% across the state, Brown said. KinVest will work in conjunction with other grant-funded projects in KU’s School of Social Welfare, including Kansas Strong for Children and Families and Family First. Previous research has shown those collaborations led to improved reunification rates for families.
In addition to providing training and open access resources, KinVest will contain an evaluation element to determine outcomes of developments.
“We want to know not only does it work, but how,” said Kaela Byers, associate research professor in social welfare at KU and lead evaluator for KinVest. “We’ll be looking at outcomes and evaluating data from families, caregivers and providers to understand from various perspectives how the services are working.”
While the KinVest project builds upon previous and ongoing work by the KU team to improve the foster care system and outcomes for children, it is the first effort to support kin caregivers specifically, meet their needs and address policy concerns relevant to their support of children. If successful, the goal is to demonstrate a statewide model to improve outcomes for Kansas children and families but to also serve as an example that can be replicated nationwide, researchers said.
About the award
This project is supported by the Children's Bureau (CB), Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $2.5 million with 100% funded by CB/ACF/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CB/ACF/HHS, or the U.S. government. For more information, please see Stevens Amendment at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/administrative-and-national-policy-requirements#chapter-8.
Image credit: Pexels