A Qualitative Research Study of Kinship Diversion Practices

This brief explores the practice of “kinship diversion,” in which children are placed with relatives as an alternative to foster care. Also referred to as informal or voluntary kinship care or safety plans, its use varies across the country. In this brief we present findings from an in depth review of kinship diversion in one state. Interviews and focus groups revealed common themes among agency caseworkers, kinship caregivers, and court personnel around the reasons for using kinship diversion, the continued support needed for kinship caregivers, and the varied factors that influence kinship diversion practices.

Download Publication


Relatives and “fictive kin” (who lack a blood relation but maintain an intimate, family-like relationship) can play a significant role in supporting children and families, particularly children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Kinship diversion occurs when a child welfare agency facilitates the placement of a child with relatives or fictive kin when that child cannot remain safely at home with his or her parents. In such cases, without the presence of an appropriate relative to care for the child, the child would be brought into the agency’s custody. Considerable anecdotal evidence suggests many states facilitate kinship diversion arrangements to prevent children from entering foster care, but it is unclear how often this occurs, or what the practice involves.

Over the past two decades there has been an increase in federal and state emphasis on kinship care and family involvement in child welfare agency policies and practices.[1] This seems to naturally lead to an increase in reliance on kinship caregivers to care for children in agency custody, as well as outside-of-agency custody with informal arrangements. While there are federal policy guidelines that govern practice for kinship caregivers of children in agency custody, federal guidance is noticeably lacking in regards to kinship diversion practices. In particular, there are no guidelines on when kinship diversion is appropriate, how to assess whether a particular caregiver is appropriate, or what services should be available in kinship diversion arrangements. Additionally, there is a robust debate among national experts about whether and when kinship diversion is an appropriate method for keeping children out of formal foster care (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013).[2]

[1] The provisions for kin caregivers in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 focus primarily on kin who care for children in state custody. For states to receive Title IV-E federal reimbursement for eligible children, ASFA requires that kin must meet the same licensing requirements as non-kin foster parents. However, states have the ability to waive licensing requirements for kinship caregivers on a case-by-case basis for non-safety issues (Allen et al., 2008).The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requires states to notify grandparents and other adult relatives within 30 days of a child’s removal from his/her parent and inform relatives of their rights to participate in the child’s care and placement. States must also explain foster parent requirements to the relatives and describe the services provided to licensed providers. However, most of the Act’s provisions for kinship caregivers do not pertain to diversion, and instead affect only licensed caregivers. For example, they allow for federal reimbursement for guardianship assistance payments and codification of foster care licensing standards and waivers (Geen, 2009).

[2] The Kinship Diversion Debate: Policy and Practice Implications for Children, Families and Child Welfare Agencies, 2013.