Definition of Kinship Navigator Programs
There are many definitions, but kinship navigator programs are essentially initiatives that provide information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and services that they or the children need. Kinship navigator programs also sensitize agencies and providers to the needs of relative-headed families.
Federal Funding Opportunities for Kinship Navigator Programs
As of October 1, 2018, thanks to the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First), states can receive federal reimbursement for up to 50% of their expenditures to provide kinship navigator programs that meet certain evidence-based requirements of promising, supported or well-supported practices. This federal support is available regardless of whether the children for whom the services are being accessed meet certain income eligibility requirements for Title IV-E foster care funding.
To help states obtain this federal reimbursement, as part of the Omnibus budget that was signed into law in March 2018, $20 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 funds will go to states, U.S. territories and tribes to develop, enhance and evaluate kinship navigator programs to eventually meet the evidence-based standards in the Family First Act. Once they meet these standards they will be able to draw down ongoing federal funding from Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. Virtually all states, territories and eligible tribes applied for these FY 2018 funds by the July 20, 2018 deadline.
The Definition and Requirements of Kinship Navigator Programs under Federal Law
Federal law defines kinship navigator programs as programs to assist kinship caregivers in learning about, finding, and using programs and services to meet the needs of the children they are raising and their own needs, and promote effective partnerships among public and private agencies to ensure kinship caregiver families are served. 42 U.S.C. 627.
The law goes on to specify that kinship navigator programs must meet the following requirements in order to receive federal funding support:
- Kinship navigator programs must be coordinated with other State or local agencies that promote service coordination or provide information and referral services, including the entities that provide 2–1–1 or 3–1–1 information systems where available, to avoid duplication or fragmentation of services to kinship care families.
- Must be planned and operated in consultation with kinship caregivers and organizations representing them, youth raised by kinship caregivers, relevant government agencies, and relevant community-based or faith-based organizations.
- Must establish information and referral systems that link (via toll-free access) kinship caregivers, kinship support group facilitators, and kinship service providers:
- to each other;
- eligibility and enrollment information for Federal, State, and local benefits;
- relevant training to assist kinship caregivers in caregiving and in obtaining benefits and services; and
- relevant legal assistance and help in obtaining legal services.
- Must provide outreach to kinship care families, including by establishing, distributing, and updating a kinship care website, or other relevant guides or outreach materials.
- Must promote partnerships between public and private agencies, including schools, community based or faith-based organizations, and relevant government agencies, to increase their knowledge of the needs of kinship care families to promote better services for those families.
- Under federal law, these programs may also establish and support a kinship care ombudsman with authority to intervene and help kinship caregivers access services; and support any other activities designed to assist kinship caregivers in obtaining benefits and services to improve their caregiving.
List of Current Kinship Navigator Programs
As of April 2018, there are approximately 70 kinship navigator programs. For a complete list click here. Other states and localities that currently lack navigator programs may have other similar programs to help grandfamilies. Click here for the state fact sheets that can tell you whether such a program exists in your area.
Previously Federally-Funded Kinship Navigator Programs
Kinship navigator programs started over fifteen years ago as state and county initiatives. Based on the success of these early programs, advocates sought to obtain support at the national level to expand kinship navigator programs into more areas. These advocacy efforts resulted in the authorization of Family Connection Grants through the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. There were two rounds of grants under this successful program, in 2009 and 2012.
According to the evaluation of these grantees, positive outcomes for those receiving kinship navigator services included:
- Safety: Relative caregivers receiving navigator services achieved identified safety goals for their families.
- Permanency: Children in the care of relative caregivers receiving navigation services had higher rates of permanency through legal guardianship and reunification with parents.
- Well-being: results showed that kinship navigator programs were successful at ameliorating the needs of grandfamilies.
Many of these programs are continuing to thrive, including the kinship navigator program at the Children’s Home Network in Florida. It includes several unique features of the Kinship Navigator model: one-e-application (online service portal site to apply for eligible benefits and services and administered in the home of a relative with a laptop computer), peer-to-peer support (hiring grandparents and other relatives who have lived the caregiving experience and can mentor and coach kinship caregivers), and an interdisciplinary team (a cadre of interdisciplinary professionals who unite to help kinship caregivers problem-solve complex issues).
This navigator program utilizes an array of standardized assessments to address family needs, stress, developmental needs, health and well-being incorporating a wraparound model and family driven approach that partners with key community partners to support and strengthen kin care arrangements. To learn more please visit www.childrenshomenetwork.org or call 888-920-8761.
The five-year evaluation of Florida’s 2012 kinship navigator grant showed compelling results for its nearly 3,000 participants:
- Low rates of re-entry: 99 percent of participants' children did not enter the child welfare system at the 12 month follow-up, showing placement stability and child safety.
- Cost-Savings: Cost of the program is less than half the costs associated with adjudicating a child dependent. Non-relative foster care is 6 times and residential group care is more than 21 times as expensive as the navigator program.
Original Kinship Navigator Programs
Among kinship navigator programs that started about 15 years ago were programs in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.
Due to state budgetary crises, of the non-Family Connection grants, only programs in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio (in less counties than when it started) and Washington State seem to have survived.
The Kinship Navigator Program in Washington appears to be the best funded and most robust program. With 8.5 full time navigators covering 30 of Washington’s 39 counties, these navigators:
- Provide information and assistance to caregivers so they can access relevant federal and state benefits.
- Pro-actively mediate with state agency staff and/or service providers and, when necessary, assist in establishing relationships between kinship caregivers and relevant state and federal agency staff, including Area Agencies on Aging and the Office of Education Ombudsman.
- Accompany grandfamilies to court and help them navigate the legal system.
- Have access to a $1 million state fund to provide short term support to grandfamilies, things like paying for a crib or school supplies.
- Provide supportive listening to grandparents and relatives of all ages who are raising children or planning to do so.
- Reach out and locate kinship care families in their service area, identifying those not involved in support group networks and/or in need of additional services. Special attention is focused on serving relatives from geographically isolated and ethnic communities.
- Develop strong collaborative working relationships with groups and agencies that work with kinship caregivers.
- Help educate the community, including service providers and faith based organizations about the needs of kinship care families and available resources and services to them.
- Follow-up with grandfamilies to ensure they are receiving services and benefits and have the support they need.
Washington State’s program started in 2004 as a pilot in funded by Casey Family Programs and is now funded in large part by the state. An evaluation of the program’s first 16 months showed that:
- Relative caregivers had a better understanding of services and benefits available to them;
- An estimated 690 children did not have to enter foster care; and
- 98 percent of caregivers who used the service were satisfied. 
Connecticut's program is a different model than Washington's; it houses its kinship navigator program within a larger general navigator service. Connecticut's navigator program, located at the United Way and funded in part by the State of Connecticut, is an online and telephone line connection to local services, including utility assistance, food, housing, child care, after school programs, legal aid service providers, and crisis intervention for all families and individuals. The program has three components that can help everyone, including kinship families, throughout the state: (1) Warm line available by dialing 2-1-1 in Connecticut that is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by multilingual staff. (2) Searchable online database of a wide variety of programs and services, including those specifically for kinship families. (3) 2-1-1 navigator, which is a custom online benefits search; the individual types in his or her information and obtains a list of services specific to that person and family. Additional information is available for kinship families at the website’s eLibrary.
Like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York have warm lines that help connect caregivers to resources and services. These help lines can be particularly useful in rural areas to assist caregivers who have limited transportation. Please note that Delaware’s program is offered using federal National Family Caregiver Support Program funds and, as such, is limited to grandparents and other relatives age 55 and older.
If you have any comments concerning this summary, please contact its author: Ana Beltran, Special Advisor, Generations United, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Casey Family Programs (2005). Kinship Caregiver Navigator Pilot, Final Pilot Evaluation Report.