Kinship navigator programs started over fifteen years ago as state and county initiatives to provide information, referral, and follow-up to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and services that they or the children need. 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.
In 2009, the Children's Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded the first round of Family Connection Grants for thirteen kinship navigator programs:
- Aspiranet, Inc., South San Francisco, California (serving Los Angeles County)
- Edgewood Center for Children and Families, San Francisco, California
- Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Public Children Services Association of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio
- The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, Trenton, New Jersey
- YMCA of San Diego County, San Diego, California
Seven additional grants in 2009 include other types of program services, in addition to kinship navigators:
- Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Yakima, Richland, Washington
- Lilliput Children’s Services, Sacramento, California
- Department of Health & Human Services, Augusta, Maine
- Maryland Department of Human Resources, Baltimore, Maryland
- Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Rhode Island Foster Parents Association, East Providence, Rhode Island
- South Carolina Department of Social Services, Columbia, South Carolina
In September 2012, the Children's Bureau at HHS announced a second round of available Family Connection grants. The seven Child Welfare/TANF Collaboration in Kinship Navigation Programs grantees are:
- Catholic Charities of Rochester dba Catholic Family Center, Rochester, New York
- Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, Los Angeles, California
- United Ways of California, South Pasadena, California
- North Oklahoma County Mental Health Center (NorthCare), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Arizona Children's Association, Tucson, Arizona
- Homes for Black Children, Detroit, Michigan
- The Children's Home, Tampa, Florida
SUMMARY AND COMPARISON OF EXISTING STATE LAWS AND PROGRAMS
In the early 2000s, several states passed laws to enact kinship navigator programs: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, New Jersey, and Washington. New York established another program without a law.
Since the Fostering Connections Act was enacted in 2009, no state legislation has passed other than a few laws calling for collaboration and a grant submission to the Children’s Bureau for one of the federal grants.
Due to state budgetary crises, of the non-Family Connection grants, only programs in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Washington State seem to have survived.
The Kinship Navigator Program in Washington appears to be the best funded and most robust program. With 8.5 full time navigators covering 30 of Washington’s 39 counties, these navigators:
- Provide information and assistance to caregivers so they can access relevant federal and state benefits.
- Pro-actively mediate with state agency staff and/or service providers and, when necessary, assist in establishing relationships between kinship caregivers and relevant state and federal agency staff, including Area Agencies on Aging and the Office of Education Ombudsman.
- Accompany grandfamilies to court and help them navigate the legal system.
- Have access to a $1 million state fund to provide short term support to grandfamilies, things like paying for a crib or school supplies.
- Provide supportive listening to grandparents and relatives of all ages who are raising children or planning to do so.
- Reach out and locate kinship care families in their service area, identifying those not involved in support group networks and/or in need of additional services. Special attention is focused on serving relatives from geographically isolated and ethnic communities.
- Develop strong collaborative working relationships with groups and agencies that work with kinship caregivers.
- Help educate the community, including service providers and faith based organizations about the needs of kinship care families and available resources and services to them.
- Follow-up with grandfamilies to ensure they are receiving services and benefits and have the support they need.
Washington State’s program started in 2004 as a pilot in funded by Casey Family Programs and is now funded in large part by the state. An evaluation of the program’s first 16 months showed that:
- Relative caregivers had a better understanding of services and benefits available to them;
- An estimated 690 children did not have to enter foster care; and
- 98 percent of caregivers who used the service were satisfied. 
Connecticut's program is a different model than Washington's; it houses its kinship navigator program within a larger general navigator service. Connecticut's navigator program, located at the United Way and funded in part by the State of Connecticut, is an online and telephone line connection to local services, including utility assistance, food, housing, child care, after school programs, legal aid service providers, and crisis intervention for all families and individuals. The program has three components that can help everyone, including kinship families, throughout the state: (1) Warm line available by dialing 2-1-1 in Connecticut that is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by multilingual staff. (2) Searchable online database of a wide variety of programs and services, including those specifically for kinship families. (3) 2-1-1 navigator, which is a custom online benefits search; the individual types in his or her information and obtains a list of services specific to that person and family. Additional information is available for kinship families at the website’s eLibrary.
Like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York have warm lines that help connect caregivers to resources and services. These help lines can be particularly useful in rural areas to assist caregivers who have limited transportation. Please note that Delaware’s program is offered using federal National Family Caregiver Support Program funds and, as such, is limited to grandparents and other relatives age 55 and older.
Other states and localities that currently lack navigator programs may have other similar programs to help the caregivers. Click here for the state fact sheets that can tell you whether such a program exists in your area.
If you have any comments concerning this summary, please contact its author: Ana Beltran, Special Advisor, Generations United, at email@example.com.
 Casey Family Programs (2005). Kinship Caregiver Navigator Pilot, Final Pilot Evaluation Report.