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One new to our field would be forgiven for thinking that the law must favor placing foster children with kin rather than with strangers. After all, individuals and organizations from across the ideological spectrum endorse kinship care, government publications describe kinship care as “the preferred resource” for placing children who cannot live at home with a parent and, after steady increases over multiple decades, authorities now place more than one-third of all foster children with kin. And decades of evidence establish that kinship care is generally more stable and serves children’s health and well-being better than living with strangers, a point so well accepted that it needs no further elaboration here.

So, one should expect the law to strongly favor kinship care over stranger foster care. But it largely does not. Instead, the law grants child protective services (CPS) agencies wide discretion to determine whether to place foster children with kinship caregivers. As a result, any meaningful preference for kinship care over stranger foster care varies significantly by jurisdiction. Putting any preference into practice is subject to the whims of CPS agencies and the judgment of individual caseworkers and family court judges regarding specific kinship caregivers.


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