Kinship care is the full time care of children by relatives, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child. The expansion of kinship foster care is, perhaps, the most dramatic shift to occur in child welfare practice over the past two decades. Informal kinship care is when a family decides that the child will live with relatives or other kin. In this informal kinship care arrangement, a social worker may be involved in helping family members plan for the child, but a child welfare agency does not assume legal custody of or responsibility for the child. Because the parents still have custody of the child, relatives need not be approved, licensed, or supervised by the state.
Formal kinship care involves the parenting of children by relatives as a result of a determination by the court and the child protective service agency. The courts rule that the child must be separated from his or her parents because of abuse, neglect, dependency, abandonment or special medical circumstances. The child is placed in the legal custody of the child welfare agency, and the relatives provide full time care. Formal kinship care is linked to state and federal child welfare laws. Federal legislation impacting kinship care includes The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, Title IV of the Social Security Act, and The Indian Child Welfare Act. Thus, kinship caregivers may be able to access Social Security Funds for the child, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds for the child, and medical assistance for the child.