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The Need for Kinship Navigator Programs in California

Kinship families are part of all communities across California. In 2021, an estimated 1.15 million California children under the age of 18 lived in homes where a relative was head of household, and for every 1 child being raised by kin in formal foster care, 14 children were being raised by kin outside of foster care (informal kinship caregiving).

Kinship families offer a tremendous opportunity for vulnerable children and youth to grow up in safety and maintain family connections when their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. Kinship caregivers open their hearts and home to a relative’s child and provide essential care and nurturing for their kinship children. Studies have shown that kinship care leads to better emotional health, fewer placements, and better long-term life outcomes for children who are raised in out-of-home care. Yet, kinship caregiving also comes with unique challenges and a need for access to the right resources and support.

United Ways of California’s is a free, one-stop web portal for information, resources, and support to meet the immediate needs of kinship caregivers, youth, and service providers. These kinship tools empower kinship caregivers to provide stable, nurturing homes for kinship children and make for stronger families all-around.

Foundation for the UWCA Kinship Navigator Program

The program is based on the beliefs that:

  • Kinship caregivers are resourceful and committed to the children in their care.
  • Kinship families are willing and able to use an online resource platform to locate needed resources.
  • Informal kinship families are underserved across California and have barriers to accessing resources commonly available to formal foster kinship families.
  • When kinship caregivers have the right tools and resources, they are equipped to build safe, stable, nurturing home environments where kinship children can thrive.

History of the UWCA Kinship Navigator Program

Funded as a Family Connection grant in 2012, United Ways of California (UWCA), together with 211 and iFoster partners, implemented a kinship navigator demonstration program in three California counties–Monterey, Riverside, and San Bernardino. This pilot program and evaluation study demonstrated that kinship caregivers of various ages, ethnicities, incomes levels, and family arrangements are willing and able to use an online resource platform to search for needed resources. The evaluation study identified family needs for kinship families in these counties and resources searched. Changes in family needs, as measured by the Kinship Navigator Family Needs Scale (FNS), showed a statistically significant reduction in needs from baseline to 12 months for study participants on 8 items. Further, study findings suggested that online resources support kinship placement stability by reducing family needs. Study participants reported that 97% of kinship children still lived with their kinship caregiver after 12 months.

In 2020, expanded to serve kinship families statewide with a searchable online resource database covering 53 of California’s 58 counties. The database included location-based resources for respite care, child care, health care, education, and many other developmental and quality of life assets. The database also included access to resources supporting stability and the fulfillment of basic needs, such as food, housing, and utility assistance. The database was powered by California’s partnership of 2-1-1 information and referral providers and by a new statewide resources database for 17 counties not served by 2-1-1. The website also included access to chat support and live phone help with kinship-trained 2-1-1 call specialists.

In 2021, a new online study was launched in partnership with Data With Purpose, LLC to build a more comprehensive data picture of California kinship caregiver demographics, family needs, and experience with the website. Study findings contributed to relaunch of the UWCA Kinship Navigator program in 2022 with further expansion of the portal website and improvements to the user experience.

The UWCA Kinship Navigator Program Today

In 2022, fueled by new grant funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, UWCA revamped and relaunched the Kinship Navigator program, including the portal website, Today, the free web portal includes:

  • A library of articles and other information with links to national and statewide resources.
  • Searchable database of local resources in partnership with 2-1-1s across California.
  • Benefit screener that helps families check eligibility for 18 different federal, state, and local benefit programs.
  • Interactive user guides embedded throughout the site to help kinship families find the right information and resources for their needs.
  • Support through online chat and text features and toll-free, live phone help with kinship-trained 2-1-1 call specialists.

Today, the UWCA Kinship Navigator program also includes a new, more rigorous study in partnership with Data With Purpose, LLC to measure the effectiveness of the program based on outcomes for kinship families and a statewide Advisory Committee to integrate the insights of kinship caregivers and youth, service providers, and other relevant organizations throughout California in continuous improvement efforts.

About United Ways of California

United Ways of California (UWCA) improves the health, education, and financial results for low-income children and families by enhancing and coordinating the community impact and advocacy work of California’s United Ways. UWCA also achieves this impact through a range of programs, including

Kinship Care CA