Summary: Foster Kinship's Navigator model has been rigorously evaluated (Preston, 2021a; Preston, 2021b) and found to significantly improve the following outcomes: access to services (child-only TANF, kinship licensing) and preventing disruption into traditional foster care (with strangers/non-kin). There is a program manual and training available (Foster Kinship, 2019; Foster Kinship, 2021).
Background: Although children in kinship care face challenges similar to children in traditional (stranger) foster care, they are more likely to live in families with less social support, fewer baseline resources, and greater challenges accessing available resources due to lack of knowledge as well as systemic barriers. Kinship families who are unable to access support and resources for the child in their home are less likely to provide safe, stable, and nurturing homes for the child- more likely to disrupt placement, to raise children in poverty, and to parent vulnerable children in ineffective ways- leading to poor long-term well-being outcomes with costly public health price tags.
Foster Kinship's practice model is grounded in research that points to the overall benefits of kinship care compared to stranger care for children who can't live with their parents. We believe that when biological parents cannot raise a child, this child should live with their family in a kinship home, and supporting kinship families is necessary for the child's well-being. The family provides safety, familiarity, and love to a child who has experienced the trauma of parental separation. Family also helps children identify who they are on the deepest, most essential levels.
The foundation of Foster Kinship's work is the recognition of the kinship bond. Coupled with that is the understanding that kinship caregivers are often more vulnerable- more likely to be older, single female caregivers such as grandmothers- who live on a fixed income and have limited access to the support traditional foster families receive. Without help, kinship families are often pushed into poverty. They may not have the tools to help children overcome trauma. Critically, kinship families do not know how other systems define them, what resources are available, or how to access them.
Theory of Change: Drawing from social support theory and transaction cost theory, Foster Kinship’s Kinship Navigator Program provides targeted information, referral, support, basic needs, and case management activities. Foster Kinship focuses on reducing uncertainty for new caregivers by connecting caregivers to accurate information at the right time and providing tangible and technical support to achieve goals. Each service is designed to connect kinship families to networks of social support, provide tangible resources, and increase baseline resources by ensuring understanding of and access to available resources. The Navigator program reduces both search and acquisition costs on the caregiver.
These services are focused on four short-term outcome domains: legal capacity, financial sustainability, community connection, and emotional support. By increasing stability in those four areas, Foster Kinship increases the safety, stability, and nurturing capacity of the kinship home and caregiver increases access to resources, and reduces disruption into stranger foster care. Children in safe, stable, and nurturing homes are more likely to overcome the challenges of early childhood trauma to experience typical adulthood.
Model Short Term Outcome Goals:
LEGAL STATUS OUTCOMES: Kinship families will establish appropriate legal relationships with the children in their homes to increase family stability. To assess the progress towards legal custody, participants will be evaluated based on changes in the custody status of at least one of their kinship children since initial intake. Family Advocates will complete an intake form and will determine if a change in legal status is necessary for the kinship family. For kinship families needing a change in legal status, the model goal is for 80% of kinship caregivers to experience a positive change in legal relationships for at least one of their kinship children upon program completion. We anticipate that for the remaining 20%, some children will be reunified with their parents or placed with other relatives.
FINANCIAL RESOURCES OUTCOMES: Kinship families will experience an increase in knowledge and access to available financial resources to help meet their family's needs. To assess this, participants will be evaluated on the change in a number of financial and community resources utilized since initial intake. Family Advocates will determine if the kinship family is eligible for any financial assistance programs not previously utilized. Upon exiting the Kinship Navigator Program, 80% of kinship caregivers who qualify for additional financial support will have received additional financial benefits for their kinship children. We anticipate that for the remaining 20%, some caregivers will refuse financial assistance for which they are eligible, and some children will be reunified with their parents or placed with other relatives.
COMMUNITY CONNECTION OUTCOMES: Family Advocates will complete an intake form to determine the number of community resources utilized at the time of intake. Upon exiting the Kinship Navigator Program, 100% of kinship caregivers will have received a personalized list of community resources to match their identified needs. By case end, 90% of caregivers will have increased their utilization of supportive services. We anticipate that for the remaining 10%, some children will be reunified with their parents or placed with other relatives.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT OUTCOMES: Kinship families will experience an increase in the number of formal and informal supports to increase the caregivers' capacity to meet the well-being needs of the children. To assess this, participants are evaluated on the expansion of their network of support through participation in family events, support groups, or educational classes since initial intake. Upon exiting the Kinship Navigator Program, 90% of kinship caregivers will have connected to someone who understands their unique experiences through participation in at least one of the program activities. We anticipate that for the remaining 10%, some caregivers will refuse to participate in supportive events, and some children will be reunified with their parents or placed with other relatives.
Foster Kinship utilizes the Family Resource Scale [FRS], which measures the adequacy of different resources in households with children (Dunst & Leet, 1987). The FRS assesses whether or not the kinship family has adequate resources (time, money, energy, and so on) to meet the needs of the family as a whole as well as the needs of the individual family members. The conceptual framework predicts that inadequacy of resources will negatively affect personal well-being and parental commitment (Dunst & Leet, 1987). The Family Resource Scale is completed at intake and upon case closure to measure the change upon receiving Kinship Navigator Program services.
In addition to the outcome data from the baseline and follow-up interviews, Family Advocates note when a kinship family has achieved a key outcome, such as custody, securing financial resources, or other indicators of positive change related to safety, permanency, or well-being.
Foster Kinship's Complete Navigator Program Manual can be requested by emailing Ali@FosterKinship.org. Some portions are available publically below and the appendix of an external evaluation outlines the fidelity rubric for both the intake and case management portions of the model (Preston, 2021a).
Preston Management & Organizational Consulting (PMOC) was awarded a contract to evaluate Foster Kinship’s Navigator Program for formal families. The evaluation contract involved conducting three separate but interrelated, empirically-based evaluation studies. The first was an observational evaluation that sought to ascertain FK staff’s level of fidelity to its Kinship Navigator Program manual for formal kinship families. The second and third were quantitative evaluations designed to determine whether FK’s Navigator Program for formal kinship families met the minimum standard for promising practice under FFPSA’s evidence-based requirements.
With respect to the observational evaluation, two unique fidelity rubrics were created, one for job tasks performed by the intake unit and a second for the case management unit. Each unit’s staff was observed on two separate occasions. Observations were documented on the corresponding fidelity rubric and judged against the protocol tasks listed in the FK Navigator Program Manual. Findings uncovered an overall fidelity percentage of 95% across both units. The intake unit’s level of fidelity was 93%, whereas the level of fidelity for the case management unit was 96%.
In the second and third studies, secondary data from the Department of Family Services (DFS), the Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS) and FK were analyzed within the framework of a quasi-experimental research design. Equivalent intervention and comparison groups were generated using propensity score matching, using one-to-one nearest neighbor matching without replacement to generate a matched data set of 1,116 children (558 intervention group and 558 comparison group children). Data were analyzed using generalized least squares logistic regression.
Findings in the second study, which matched data from DFS with FK, revealed a statistically significant difference between the groups for the study’s two outcomes, access to services and placement stability.
Relative to the comparison group, the intervention group was :
Additionally, the Cohen’s D for each outcome was substantially large at .68 for access to services and .60 for placement stability.
In the third study, secondary data on child-only TANF, a form of financial support available to some kinship families from DWSS, was matched with FK data and analyzed. A generalized least squares multivariate logistic regression analysis uncovered statistically significant differences between the intervention and comparison groups.
Relative to the comparison group, the intervention group was:
In conclusion, results from these evaluation studies not only support fidelity to FK’s Kinship Navigator Program Manual but also offer rigorous preliminary evidence that FK’s Kinship Navigator Program would meet the minimum standard for promising practice as outlined by the Handbook of Standards and Procedures for the FFPSA’s evidence-based requirements.
Foster Kinship’s Founder and Executive Director Ali Caliendo, Ph.D., is an expert in the field of kinship care. She focuses her academic work on policy and practice issues affecting both public and private kinship care. A licensed foster parent and an adoptive parent herself, Alison is a frequent contributor to the local, state and national conversation on kinship and foster care. Learn more about Ali.