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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Family and Relationships > Division of Child Protection and Permanency/Child Welfare > Guardianship and Adoption

New Law Favors Kinship Care Over Foster Care: Q&A to Help You Understand Law P.L.2021, c.154



If parents and children cannot remain safe together, LSNJ supports the idea of placing children with family members after a separation from their parents, rather than in stranger foster care. Doing so can help minimize trauma for children and families, and reduce racial inequalities in the child welfare system. New Jersey’s new law favoring kinship care over foster care is a step in the right direction. The questions and answers below will help you learn more about the rights of a family involved with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).

What is Law P.L.2021, c.154?

Laws and practices that govern child protective services vary by state and New Jersey recently changed its laws. P.L.2021, c.154 newly requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or family courts to consider placing children with relatives or kinship legal guardians and to change the current standards for initiating the termination of parental rights.

What is a kinship relationship? Who is a kinship legal guardian?

A “kinship relationship” is a family friend or a person with a biological or legal relationship to the child.

A “kinship legal guardian” is a caregiver who is willing to assume care of a child due to parental incapacity, with the intent to raise the child to adulthood, and who is appointed by the court. A kinship legal guardian is responsible for the care and protection of the child and for providing for the child’s health, education, and maintenance.

How will P.L.2021, c.154 affect my ability to be the caretaker of a grandchild/niece/nephew?

P.L.2021, c.154 promotes a “kin first” culture. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, other “kin,” or a family friend will be considered first to care for the child of parents who’ve lost their parental rights. A stranger to the child will not be given preference over family members who are found to be willing and able to care for the child.

What changes were made as a result of P.L.2021, c.154?

The new law favors kinship caregiving in several ways.

  • It modifies the term “caregiver,” to be defined as a person over the age of 18, other than the person’s parent, who has a kinship relationship with, and has been providing support services to, the child while the child has been residing in the person’s home for either the last six consecutive months or nine of the last 15 months.

  • The kinship caregiver assessment must contain a certification from a caregiver stating that the caregiver has provided care and support while the child has been residing in the caregiver’s home.

  • The law removes the requirement that, in cases in which the DCPP is involved with a child, the court needs to find that the adoption of the child is not feasible and not likely in order to appoint a caregiver as a kinship legal guardian.

  • The court or DCPP must make reasonable efforts to place the child with a suitable relative or person who has a kinship relationship prior to placing the child in stranger foster care when:      

    (1) DCPP is informed that there has been an emergency removal of a child from the child’s home;

    (2) the court finds that a child’s continued removal is necessary to avoid an ongoing risk to the child’s life, safety, or health; or

    (3) the court places a child with a relative, other suitable person, or the DCPP for placement, upon a finding that the DCPP has made reasonable efforts to prevent a child’s placement, or that reasonable efforts to prevent placement are not required.

  • When DCF accepts a child into its care or custody, it must consider placing the child with a suitable relative or person who has a kinship relationship.

  • DCF must search for someone with a kinship relationship to the child, someone who may be willing to provide care and support to the child. DCF must assess that person’s ability to do so. If DCF determines that a person with a kinship relationship is unwilling or unable to assume the care of the child, DCF must inform the person of its determination, of the person’s responsibility if there is a change in circumstances upon which DCF made its determination, of the person’s right to seek review of DCF’s determination, and the possibility that termination of parental rights may occur if the child remains in resource family care for more than six months.

Why are these legal changes necessary and important?

This new law helps ensure that reasonable efforts are made to place children into the care of willing and able family members or “kin” in the event that the child must be taken out of the biological parents’ home. In other words, it protects the family structure. Kin placements reduce the pain children experience when they are removed because they will still be with family members. Kin placements not only decrease the risk of trauma to children and their families, they also support reunification. These changes also reduce racial disparities in New Jersey’s system.

Why is kinship care preferred?

Kinship care maintains children’s connections with their families and has many other benefits. Children in the care of relatives have increased stability, with fewer placement changes and school changes. Relatives are more likely than nonrelatives to support the child through difficult times and less likely to request removal of “problematic” children. The children themselves generally express more positive feelings about their placements and are less likely to run away. Kin caregivers also provide higher levels of permanency, since they are more likely to provide a permanent home through guardianship, custody, or adoption.

Another important benefit of kinship care is the increased likelihood of children living with or staying connected to siblings. As a result, children in kinship homes have better behavioral and mental health outcomes, and are able to preserve their cultural identity and relationship to cultural customs and traditions. Children in kinship homes are more likely to stay connected to their extended family and community. ​