Kinship Navigator Programs

Kinship navigator programs provide information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and supports that they and/or the children need.  

Definition of Kinship Navigator Programs

Federal law defines kinship navigator programs as programs that assist kinship caregivers in learning about, finding, and using programs and services to meet the needs of the children they are raising and their own needs, and promote effective partnerships among public and private agencies to ensure kinship caregiver families are served. 42 U.S.C. 627.


Federal Funding Opportunities for Kinship Navigator Programs

On February 28, 2020, the Children's Bureau issued a program instruction on how to apply for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 kinship navigator funds: Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-20-05 - Federal Fiscal Year 2020 Funding Available to Develop or Enhance or Evaluate Kinship Navigator Programs These funds and their application process mirror the FY 2018 and FY 2019 kinship navigator funds and application process.  Virtually all eligible jurisdictions have applied for and received FY 2018 and FY 2019 funding.


This program instruction provides specific guidance on how to apply for FY 2020 funds to develop, enhance or evaluate kinship navigator programs.  Due to COVID-19 crisis, the application due date has been extended and must be completed by no later than May 1, 2020.  As with the FY 2018 and FY 2019 funds, jurisdictions are not required to match the federal funds.  


The goal of this funding, as with the FY 2018 and FY 2019 funding, is to help states, territories and tribes take advantage of ongoing federal funding for kinship navigator programs, which is available as of October 1, 2018 thanks to the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First Act). 


Requirements for Ongoing Federal Reimbursement of Kinship Navigator Programs 

Under the Family First Act, jurisdictions can receive ongoing federal reimbursement for up to 50% of their expenditures to provide kinship navigator programs that meet certain  requirements. This federal support is available regardless of whether the children for whom the services are being accessed meet income eligibility requirements for Title IV-E or are candidates for foster care.


States, tribes and territories do not have to meet federal kinship navigator program requirements to receive the FY 2018, 2019 and 2020 funding, but they should use these funds to pose themselves to meet these requirements and receive ongoing reimbursement under the Family First Act.


On November 30, 2018, HHS released information about the requirements for ongoing federal reimbursement of kinship navigator programs: Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-18-11 - Requirements for Participating in the Title IV-E Kinship Navigator Program.


To receive ongoing federal reimbursement, kinship navigator programs:


  1. Coordinate with other state or local agencies that promote service coordination or provide information and referral, such as 2-1-1 and 3-1-1
  2. Plan and operate with kinship caregivers, youth raised by kinship caregivers, government agencies, and community and faith-based organizations
  3. Establish information and referral systems that link kinship caregivers, support group facilitators and providers to each other, public benefits, training and legal assistance
  4. Provide outreach to kinship care families, including through a website
  5. Promote partnerships between public and private agencies
  6. Meet evidence-based requirements


  1. Establish and support a kinship care ombudsman
  2. Support any other activities designed to assist kinship caregivers obtain benefits and services 

Previous Kinship Navigator Programs
Kinship navigator programs started over fifteen years ago as state and county initiatives. These programs assist kinship caregivers in navigating the many systems that impact them, including child welfare, aging, education, housing and health care. Washington State, Ohio and New Jersey all had robust statewide kinship navigator programs, and several other states and communities also had programs.


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. There were two rounds of grants under this successful program, in 2009 and 2012. 


According to the evaluation of the 2009 grantees (the evaluation of the 2012 grantees was not finalized), positive outcomes for those receiving kinship navigator services included:

  • Safety: Relative caregivers receiving navigator services achieved identified safety goals for their families.
  • Permanency: Children in the care of relative caregivers receiving navigation services had higher rates of permanency through legal guardianship and reunification with parents.  
  • Well-being: results showed that kinship navigator programs were successful at ameliorating the needs of grandfamilies.

Many of these programs are continuing to thrive, including the kinship navigator program at the Children’s Home  in Florida. The Florida program includes several unique features of the kinship navigator model: one-e-application (online service portal site to apply for eligible benefits and services and administered in the home of a relative with a laptop computer), peer-to-peer support (hiring grandparents and other relatives who have lived the caregiving experience and can mentor and coach kinship caregivers), and an interdisciplinary team (a cadre of interdisciplinary professionals who unite to help kinship caregivers problem-solve complex issues).


This navigator program utilizes an array of standardized assessments to address family needs, stress, developmental needs, health and well-being incorporating a wraparound model and family driven approach that partners with key community partners to support and strengthen kin care arrangements. To learn more please visit or call 888-920-8761. 


The five-year evaluation of Florida’s 2012 kinship navigator grant showed compelling results for its nearly 3,000 participants:

  • Low rates of re-entry: 99 percent of participants' children did not enter the child welfare system at the 12 month follow-up, showing placement stability and child safety.
  • Cost-Savings: Cost of the program is less than half the costs associated with adjudicating a child dependent. Non-relative foster care is 6 times and residential group care is more than 21 times as expensive as the navigator program.

Title IV-Clearinghouse

Based on the success of the early programs and the federal grantees, Congress provided for ongoing federal funding for evidence-based kinship navigator programs through the Family First Act.  It adopted the same program requirements from the Fostering Connections Act that applied to the earlier federal grantees, and added a requirement that these programs must be found by a “Title IV-E Clearinghouse” (Clearinghouse) to meet evidence-based standards of promising, supported or well-supported.


As of April 2020, the Clearinghouse has not included a single kinship navigator program as meeting its evidence-based standards. Consequently, no program is currently eligible to receive federal reimbursement. This poses a huge challenge for states and tribes that could follow a model with fidelity and receive the reimbursement. Even the states and tribes with established programs are facing barriers meeting Clearinghouse criteria and practices. They are struggling with ways to ethically address federal requirements to have control groups and firm start and end dates for the provision of services. No program wants to turn away needy families, and many kinship navigator programs do not serve families with start and end dates because families’ needs vary greatly, and they may need to come in and out of the program for different lengths of times. These caregiving relationships often last for years, with the needs of the children and caregivers changing as they age.


So, the question comes up time and again – What do we do until a model is identified by the Clearinghouse?


Drawing on over twenty years of work in this area, Generations United, in partnership with kinship navigators around the country, have developed a tip sheet of elements to include in a successful kinship navigator program. These steps can be implemented prior to the Clearinghouse’s inclusion of a model program.  

If you have any comments concerning this summary, please contact its author: Ana Beltran, Co-Director, Generations United's National Center on Grandfamilies, at

Cheryl* is a multi-racial (American Indian and White) 38 year-old who cares for her 12- year old great niece and 6 year old great nephew, in addition to her own three children, ages 7 and 13.

Cheryl learned of the Kinship Navigator program of Yakima, Washington through another kinship caregiver family and called to get help obtaining custody of her great niece and nephew because of their mother’s drug involvement. Cheryl noted that the navigator was instrumental in walking Cheryl through the steps to obtain custody of her great niece and nephew, helping with judicial paperwork, getting legal assistance, communicating with police, arranging welfare payments for the children, and ongoing supportive listening. Once custody was established, the Navigator helped Cheryl get connected with Catholic Family Services which helped pay their bills and get groceries at Christmas time. Cheryl most appreciated that the Yakima Navigator was “non-judgmental, strong-willed, and dedicated to her job.”

Many caregivers like Cheryl report the need for information about resources and supportive services available to them. Others are aware of some services but need help navigating the complex and often fragmented social service system. Kinship navigator programs like the one offered in Washington state, can offer the support caregivers need to provide the best care for the children they are raising.

*Names have been changed

NEW Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-21-09- Provides a definition of “short-term support” under the temporary pandemic flexibilities of Division X for Title IV-E agencies participating in the Title IV-E kinship navigator program.  On August 6, 2021,the Children’s Bureau issued guidance clarifying that short-term direct assistance to kinship families through the Title IV-E flexible funding opportunity for kinship navigators should be limited to no more than four months, and should mirror TANF’s short term assistance.  We are disappointed in this guidance as 4 months does not adequately address the needs the COVID-19 pandemic has created, which was the very purpose of this funding opportunity. 


We continue to encourage those states that have not accessed the flexible funding opportunity to consider applying as other very important kinship navigator services and supports, evaluation, and administrative costs can be reimbursed in full dating back to April 1, 2020 and through September 2021. See below for application materials.


As of July, the Children’s Bureau had approved applications for this flexible funding from 15 states and 1 tribe:  Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah,  West Virginia and Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe.  Four states and 1 Tribe were pending review:  California, Connecticut, Colorado, Montana, and the Tolowa Nation.  Four additional states were planning to apply: Delaware,  Maryland, Oregon, and Washington.



NEW Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-21-05 - To instruct title IV-E agencies on actions needed to receive title IV-E Kinship Navigator flexible funding for April 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021 and Title IV-E Pre Print Attachment

Program Instruction from the Children’s Bureau that clarifies the steps federally-funded state and tribal child welfare agencies must take to obtain full federal reimbursement for kinship navigator programs dating back to April 2020 and extending through September 2021.  To obtain full reimbursement for both evaluation and program costs, which can include legal assistance and concrete goods for caregivers, these programs do not yet have to meet federal evidence-based requirements.  Rather, the state or tribal agency must simply provide an assurance that the program is or will be in the process of being evaluated and briefly describe those activities in the pre-print attachment.  


Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-21-06.  This Program Instruction provides guidance to state, territorial and tribal title IV-E agencies on the actions required to apply for FY 2021 title IV-B, subpart 2 funding to support the development, enhancement or evaluation of kinship navigator programs.  Applications for funding were due to Children’s Bureau Regional Offices by May 28, 2021.

PI-21-06 Attachment A - FY 2021 Kinship Navigator Estimated Allotments

PI-21-06 Attachment B - FY 2021 Kinship Navigator Funding Request

PI-21-06 Attachment C - RPMs


Grandfamilies and Kinship Care Provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, February 9, 2021 Webinar

A 60-minute webinar highlighting the grandfamilies and kinship care provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, some of the most significant being those providing additional federal funds for kinship navigator programs. Generations United staff are joined by experts from the Children’s Defense Fund and the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law to provide an overview of new federal investments in kinship navigator programs, grandfamilies housing, and relevant child welfare programs that can help grandfamilies. 


Kinship Navigator Programs: Practical Tips and Resources

A practical resource from Generations United for states, tribes and territories implementing kinship navigator programs (2020).


Using New Federal Funding Opportunities to Develop Effective Kinship Navigator Programs Webinars

Regional webinars delivered on accessing new federal funding available under the Family First Prevention Services Act for states, tribes and U.S. territories and developing high quality, evidence-based programs.  This webinar featured presentations from national experts, local programs, and kinship caregivers. It also includes information about how to develop programs to meet evidence-based standards and highlight opportunities for further technical assistance. Hosted by Generations United as part of a regional webinar series supported by Casey Family Programs (2018).

Dec. 4, 2018 West Coast, Midwest, Alaska, Hawaii

Dec. 5, 2018 Southern Region

Dec. 6, 2018 Eastern Region

Administration for Children and Families, Program Instruction ACYF-CB-PI-18-11:

Requirements for Participating in the Title IV-E Kinship Navigator Program

On November 30, 2018, the Children’s Bureau issued a program instruction on how title IV-E agencies may participate for ongoing federal reimbursement for kinship navigator programs under the Family First Prevention Services Act.


    Casey Family Programs Kinship Caregiver Navigator Pilot

    Final evaluation report of Washington State's kinship navigator program (2005).


    Children's Bureau Grantee Synthesis:  Kinship Navigator Programs

    Information and lessons learned from the 2012 kinship navigator grantees' experiences implementing kinship navigator programs, including cross-cutting themes and promising practices (2019).


    Family Connection Discretionary Grants 2009-Funded Grantees Cross-Site Evaluation Report – Final

    Final evaluation report of the 2009 kinship navigator programs funded by the Children's Bureau (2013). 


    The Face of Kinship Care Documentary

    This film, developed by CWLA and the NYS Kinship Navigator, portrays the compelling and inspiring stories of three kinship families and the love and devotion they show to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In a rare moment of recognition and validation, kinship caregivers see their story represented on screen. The film is a critical tool to help inspire, educate and energize human services agencies, caregivers, and policy makers.

    If you are interested in more information on renting the film, please visit the CWLA bookstore.  The rental price is $19.95.


    Using Kinship Navigators to Assess the Needs of Kinship Caregivers

    Describes a kinship navigator program for kin caregivers involved in the child welfare system and explains supports that kinship caregivers need to be successful.  Sutphin. GandFamilies: The Contemporary Journal of Research, Practice, and Policy, 2(1), (2015).


    2017 Child Information Gateway Podcasts

    Arizona Kinship Support Services PSA & Caregiver Testimonials

    Igniting Hope in South LA (from Community Coalition)