Children and youth who successfully learn how to read, write, and perform basic math skills are more likely to go to college, find good jobs, and attain financial security in adulthood—all of which support their overall well-being across the lifespan. Unfortunately, many children in out-of-home care (OOHC) have academic difficulties—including with basic elements related to core reading and math skills. However, recent research suggests that one way to improve academic outcomes and long-term success for children in OOHC is to allow them to live with relatives or other individuals with whom they have a close bond, in what is known as kinship care.
This brief summarizes the main findings of a study based in North Carolina and conducted by the first author of this brief, Tyreasa Washington, and her colleagues. The study reinforces that kinship care settings support the academic well-being of children who do not live with at least one birth or adoptive parent.
Kinship care refers to the placement of children with relatives or persons who have a close bond with the children (e.g., grandparent, aunt or uncle, Godparent, church member) when birth parents are unable or not willing to be the primary caregiver. In recent years, child welfare advocates, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers have increasingly advocated for the placement of children in OOHC with kinship caregivers. Research and observations indicate that children placed with kin tend to have better academic, behavioral, and mental health outcomes—as well as an increased sense of family connectedness and belonging—compared to children who are placed in traditional non-relative OOHC (i.e., foster care).
In 2013, approximately 2.2 million U.S. children were in some form of kinship care. Census data tell us that the number of children in kinship care has increased over the last few years to approximately 2.6 million children. There are two types of kinship care placements: formal and informal. In formal kinship care placements, children are placed with relatives and these families are supervised by the child welfare system. Informal kinship care families are not supervised by the child welfare system. It is important to note that the majority of children in kinship care are informally placed: At any given time, more than 70 percent of kinship care placements are informal.