Minnesota underutilizes the “kinship care” of grandparents and other relatives when foster children are removed from their parents’ homes, according to a new national report from the Anne E. Casey Foundation.
While 26 percent of foster children, nationally, are placed with relatives, only 17 percent of Minnesota’s foster children were placed with relatives in 2010, the study found. Minnesota is also less likely to use informal kinship care for children when their parents are unable to care for them. Only 2 percent of the state’s children overall were in kinship care – whether formal or informal. The national average was 4 percent.
Kinship care can be dicey in certain foster care situations, because some grandparents or relatives might be lax on rules and allow birth parents accused of abuse or neglect to have contact with the kids. On the other hand, kinship care can keep children in safer situations while allowing them to retain connections to their family roots.
“Kinship care allows children to remain as part of their family, form a bond with the family, and experience the positive psychological feelings that come with being wanted by family,” said Priscilla Gibson, an expert on kinship care research at the University of Minnesota. “Too often misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the law by the courts or social workers and lack of information on the part of relatives results in children being placed in foster care with strangers rather than with their own relatives.”
The Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota -- a local partner of the Casey foundation -- urged the state to increase its kinship care promotion, and to consider tapping federal funds for this purpose through the Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP).
Part of the reason for Minnesota’s imbalance in the Casey report is its inclusion of juvenile delinquents in its foster care count, said Erin Sullivan Sutton, an assistant commissioner for the state Department of Human Services. Many states don't count these kids as part of their foster care populations.
Children needing confinement due to criminal acts aren’t good candidates for kinship care, she said. When removing these delinquents – and children with severe mental disorders who need placement in treatment centers – the share of Minnesota foster children who live in kinship care increases to 45 percent.

In her written statement, Sullivan Sutton said the state is already increasing its efforts to search for relatives who are willing to take in foster children.

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