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Kinship Care and Juvenile Dependency: Placing Children with Relatives as an Alternative to Foster Care

Kinship care, often called relative or extended family care, involves placing children with relatives or close family friends rather than in traditional foster care settings.

Kinship care recognizes the importance of maintaining familial bonds. It also serves as a crucial element in addressing the challenges of juvenile dependency within the California penal system.

Challenges in the Foster Care System

The foster care system provides temporary care for children removed from their homes due to various circumstances. Although this system is well-intentioned, it faces some challenges that hinder its ability to meet the evolving needs of the children it serves. These challenges include:


With an increasing number of children entering the system, foster care facilities often struggle to accommodate them adequately, leading to a dilution of resources and personalized care.

Overcrowding results in less than adequate physical living conditions for children.

It impedes the system’s capacity to offer individualized attention and support. Each child comes with unique emotional, educational, or medical needs, and an overcrowded system struggles to cater to these specific requirements.

Lack of personalized care can contribute to a feeling of neglect, impacting a child’s overall well-being and development.

Additionally, a lack of personalized care in the foster care system can result in placement disruptions. Children may find themselves shuttled between different homes, schools, and communities, disrupting any stability they might feel or have.

This instability can have lasting effects on a child’s mental health, hindering their ability to form secure attachments and navigate relationships effectively.

Resource Limitations

Financial constraints often translate to insufficient staffing, limiting the number of qualified and trained caregivers available. Consequently, the quality of care provided may suffer, further exacerbating the difficulties faced by children in foster care.

Resource shortage also hinders children’s holistic development as they cannot access educational and extracurricular opportunities.

Importance of Kinship Care in Juvenile Dependency

Kinship care contributes to the well-being and development of children entangled in the foster care system in the following ways: 

  1. Upholding the emotional and psychological development of a child. Kinship care provides a nurturing environment that goes beyond the confines of traditional foster care and is a better solution to address the emotional, psychological, and cultural needs of children.
  2. Providing stability and familiarity. Placing a child with a relative or close family friend provides an immediate sense of familiarity. Children are more likely to feel grounded and stable around relatives or people they are used to. Their interpersonal relationships, academic performance, behavior, and overall psychological well-being reflect this sense of security.
  3. Preserving family bonds. Unlike traditional foster care, which fragments familial connections, kinship care ensures children remain connected to their roots. This provides children with a sense of identity and belonging.
  4. Children don’t have to endure prolonged court processes. The support system provided by relatives or close family friends helps families navigate the legal processes, ensuring that the child’s best interests remain at the forefront. This family support often translates into a smoother transition for children, minimizing the perplexity associated with legal proceedings.

Laws Governing Kinship Care in California

Specific penal codes in California govern the circumstances under which children may be placed in kinship care, outlining the rights and responsibilities of caregivers and biological parents.

  • The Welfare and Institutions Code, particularly sections 361 and 362.7, provides guidelines for placing children with relatives and non-relative extended family members (NREFMs).
  • California Family Code, notably sections 3011 and 3041, outlines the factors considered in determining the child’s best interests in cases involving custody and visitation. Issues such as substance abuse, incarceration, and domestic violence are often considered in juvenile dependency cases.
  • Penal Code sections such as 300 and 601 specify the criteria for declaring a child a dependent of the court or a ward of the court, respectively.

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