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Kinship navigator programs provide information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and supports that they and/or the children need.  

Kinship Navigator Programs

Definition of Kinship Navigator Programs

Federal law defines kinship navigator programs as programs that 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.

 

Federal Funding Opportunities for Kinship Navigator Programs

Each year since 2018, Congress has appropriated $20 million to develop, enhance or evaluate kinship navigator programs. The Children's Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issues program guidance for this opportunity each year, and Title IV-E child welfare agencies must apply annually, but it is not a competitive process. Virtually all eligible jurisdictions have applied for and received this funding, which does not require a match. 

 

Thanks to this opportunity, more kinship navigator programs exist in 2022 than ever before. For a list of existing programs, see this resource

 

No funds have yet been appropriated for 2023.  If they are, this page will be updated in spring 2023.  

 

The goal of this funding has been to help states, territories and tribes take advantage of ongoing federal funding for kinship navigator programs, which has been available since October 2018, thanks to the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First Act). 

 

Requirements for Ongoing Federal Reimbursement of Kinship Navigator Programs 

Under the Family First Act, jurisdictions can receive ongoing federal reimbursement for up to 50% of their expenditures to provide kinship navigator programs that meet certain  requirements. This federal support is available regardless of whether the children for whom the services are being accessed meet income eligibility requirements for Title IV-E or are candidates for foster care.

 

States, tribes, and territories do not have to meet federal kinship navigator program requirements to receive the annual noncompetitive funding mentioned above, but they should use these funds to pose themselves to meet these requirements and receive ongoing reimbursement under the Family First Act.

 

In November 2018, HHS released information about the requirements for ongoing federal reimbursement of kinship navigator programs, which is still applicable as of 2022: Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-18-11 - Requirements for Participating in the Title IV-E Kinship Navigator Program.

 

To receive ongoing federal reimbursement, kinship navigator programs:

MUST:

  1. Coordinate with other state or local agencies that promote service coordination or provide information and referral, such as 2-1-1 and 3-1-1
  2. Plan and operate with kinship caregivers, youth raised by kinship caregivers, government agencies, and community and faith-based organizations
  3. Establish information and referral systems that link kinship caregivers, support group facilitators and providers to each other, public benefits, training and legal assistance
  4. Provide outreach to kinship care families, including through a website
  5. Promote partnerships between public and private agencies
  6. Meet evidence-based requirements

MAY:  

  1. Establish and support a kinship care ombudsman
  2. Support any other activities designed to assist kinship caregivers obtain benefits and services 

Generations United has published a tip sheet of elements to include in a successful kinship navigator program, which build on these federal requirements.

 

History of Kinship Navigator Programs
Kinship navigator programs started over twenty years ago as state and county initiatives. These programs assist kinship caregivers in navigating the many systems that impact them, including child welfare, aging, education, housing and health care. Washington State, Ohio and New Jersey all had robust statewide kinship navigator programs, and several other states and communities also had programs.

 

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 the 2009 grantees (the evaluation of the 2012 grantees was not finalized), 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  in Florida. The Florida program 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.

Title IV-Clearinghouse

Based on the success of the early programs and the federal grantees, Congress provided for ongoing federal funding for evidence-based kinship navigator programs through the Family First Act.  It adopted the same program requirements from the Fostering Connections Act that applied to the earlier federal grantees, and added a requirement that these programs must be found by a “Title IV-E Clearinghouse” (Clearinghouse) to meet evidence-based standards of promising, supported or well-supported.

 

As of November 2022, the Clearinghouse has included two kinship navigator programs - Arizona Kinship Support Services and Ohio's Kinship Supports Intervention/ProtectOhio - which it determined meets its evidence-based standards. Both programs as approved are limited to kinship caregivers of children in child welfare custody.  Work continues to ensure that a program is included that serves all kinship families, regardless of child welfare involvement.  Many of the established programs serving all families are facing barriers meeting Clearinghouse criteria and practices. They are struggling with ways to ethically address federal requirements to have control groups and firm start and end dates for the provision of services. No program wants to turn away needy families, and many kinship navigator programs do not serve families with start and end dates because families’ needs vary greatly, and they may need to come in and out of the program for different lengths of times. These caregiving relationships often last for years, with the needs of the children and caregivers changing as they age.  

 

Regardless of these challenges, a few programs serving all kinship families are close to submitting to the Clearinghouse for approval, and in 2023, we hope to update this page with news that a comprehensive kinship navigator program has been approved for ongoing federal funding reimbursement. 

 

If you have any comments concerning this summary, please contact its author: Ana Beltran, Generations United, at abeltran@gu.org. 

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