Latino families in the nexus of child welfare, welfare reform, and immigration policies: is kinship care a lost opportunity?

Author:Ayon, Cecilia
Position:COMMENTARY - Report

The number of Latino children involved with the child welfare system has more than doubled in the past 15 years, currently representing 21 percent of known cases of child maltreatment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (HHS, ACYF), 1997, 2009). Culturally appropriate services are in dire need, and kinship care placements appeal to the family system fundamental to Latino culture. Evidence suggests kinship placements result in fewer moves and instances of reentering care, better opportunities for maintaining contact with birth family, and faster sibling placements (Cuddeback, 2004; Winokur, Rozen, Thompson, Green, & Valentine, 2005). Unfortunately, most child welfare policies ineffectively deal with issues unique to Latinos, such as cultural norms, mixed documentation status within households, and high rates of poverty. This commentary explores the multifaceted barriers Latino kinship care providers are likely to encounter as their lived experiences intersect with child welfare, welfare reform, and immigration policies. We posited that culturally sensitive practice and policy can reduce some strains experienced by Latino families involved with child welfare and supports kinship care as a viable placement option.


Types of Kinship Care

Traditionally, kinship care includes formal and informal care. Formal kinship occurs when children are placed in state custody, whereas informal kinship arrangements do not involve the child welfare system. Within formal kinship caregiving, placements can be foster kinship care--where relative caregivers become licensed providers, or volunteer kinship care--where a child is placed with a relative without seeking state custody (Geen, 2004). These distinctions significantly affect the type and amount of payment caregivers can receive as well as access to supports and services (for example, mental health).

Latino Kinship Care and Licensing Difficulties

Latino families' ability to be licensed foster kinship placements are complicated by a limited definition of kin, immigration issues, and lack of language-appropriate services. The family system plays a pivotal role in the lives of Latino families and individuals. Central are familismo, which refers to the importance of family unity that contributes to the well-being of the family and extended family (Cauce & Domenech-Rodriguez, 2000), and compadrazgo, which is co-parenthood akin to godparents (padrinos) that forms social and religious ties between families and the selected godparents (Barrio & Hughes, 2000). These concepts produce strong family loyalties extending beyond the nuclear family to include kinship networks and non-blood relations (Hurtado, 1995). Unfortunately, federal and state policies ignore these non-blood networks, as such people are ineligible for licensure. In the majority of states "kinship" is narrowly defined through blood relation, marriage, or adoption. Only 21 states adhere to a broader definition that includes non-blood ties like friends, neighbors, or godparents (Leos-Urbel, Bess, & Geen, 2000).

Latino families are unable to be licensed foster caregivers if they live in a mixed-documentation household, in which nearly three in five (62 percent) U.S. Latino children reside (National Council of La Raza, 2009). A mixed-documentation household has one or more people living in a home who are undocumented immigrants. Caregivers in these situations may refrain from becoming a licensed kinship placement due to requirements like background checks that require caregivers and people in the household 16 years and older to provide fingerprints and valid photo identification. Family members who want to be licensed caregivers may place themselves or others in danger of deportation, especially in light of anti-inmaigrant policies (for...

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