Children in relative adoptions and foster care experience better outcomes than do children placed in non-kinship foster care. (1) These outcomes include greater placement stability, fewer school changes, higher levels of permanency, and better behavioral and mental health outcomes. While the existing research on relative guardianship has limitations, guardianship remans a crucial permanency option. In fact, many state and county child welfare agencies are building on federal law to help children achieve legal permanency through guardianship with relatives and fictive kin. To better understand state policies guiding guardianship, this article presents trends in state statutes and administrative codes for guardianship across all 50 states. Figure 1 provides an overview of the diversity of guardianship programs in the United States.
In the summer of 2016, we analyzed legislation pertaining to guardianship assistance along with the federal Title IV-E Guardian Assistance Program (GAP). In addition, we conducted a survey of state experts in guardianship (or child welfare administrators in the states without a guardianship program), later that year. This study, developed in collaboration with the Chapin Hall Center for Children, was guided by a desire to clearly understand how states are, or are not, supporting guardianship placements in the law and in practice.
We found that states fund their guardianship assistance programs with state or TANF dollars, and they fund federal GAP programs with Title IV-E funds. States may choose to draw down Title IV-E funds to subsidize state guardianship payments in which children and their adult guardians meet Title IV-E qualifications. They may also use additional state funds to subsidize guardianship cases in which the child or the adult guardian does not meet federal qualifications for the Title IV-E GAP program (see Figure 2).
As of September 2017, 36 states and the District of Columbia, as well as eight Indian tribes, had approved GAP plans. However, challenges remain: six states with approved GAP plans reported no GAP caseload in FY 2016. Three of these states (Arkansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) have program effective dates of 2013 or earlier but have not placed any children into subsidized guardianships. The remaining three states (Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina) have recent program effective dates and are expected to begin showing GAP caseloads in FY 2017. (2)
States choosing to draw down...