A kinship caregiver is a family relation caring for a child when the caregiver is not the parent. Grandparents raising their grandchildren is an example of a common kinship family, but kin caregivers can also include aunts, uncles, siblings, a close family friend, or tribe member. These caregiving relationships can happen within a formal foster care placement, but they may also occur outside of the foster system. Relatives are the preferred caregivers when a child cannot be with their birth parent because research indicates it may maintain family connections, increase stability, and minimize the trauma of family separation.


According to 2021 GrandFamilies Montana:

  • More than 21,000 children live in homes with relatives as head of the household.
  • 8,000 of those children are being raised by kin with no parent present.
  • For every child raised by kin caregivers within the foster system, four more children are in kin care without formal foster support.


A young girl and a older woman.

Photo: Kari Lewis, MSU Extension


This is often an unexpected situation with new responsibilities and systems to navigate for both caregiver and child. Research indicates that kin caregiving families who receive kin caregiver specific supports are more likely to improve:

  • Child well-being with fewer behavioral challenges, fewer mental health disorders, less placement disruption, potentially increased self-esteem, and similar reunification rates compared to foster youth.
  • Caregiver well-being by reducing caregiver stress, strengthening family relationships and dynamics, finding peer connections, increasing self-confidence and parenting knowledge, and accessing relevant resources and services.


  • Through community organization referrals. Some family and child support organizations have partners to help kin caregivers connect with the Montana Kinship Navigator Program (MTKNP).
  • Family or friend suggestion to connect. Some caregivers may not know about these resources or realize they are kin caregivers. A friendly suggestion, social media post, or shared experience can help kin caregivers connect to MTKNP resources.
  • Directly via web, phone, or email. Kin caregivers can contact the program directly for assistance, information, and referrals.
  • Website: montana.edu/extension/mtknp/index.html
    Phone: 406-994-3395 or 1-888-445-3395
    Email: [email protected]


A young boy and a older man sitting on a staircase.

Photo: Jane Wolery, MSU Extension


The Montana Kinship Navigator Program (MTKNP) is a program delivered by Montana State University Extension and funded by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. MTKNP serves kinship and relative caregivers for the entire state of Montana, including rural, urban, and tribal communities. The program was founded in 2002 as Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and continues to evolve in name and service to meet local needs. MTKNP is undertaking a multi-state evaluation effort to become a well-supported, evidence-based program recognized in a federal service program. It offers caregivers peer support, education and access to resources so they can live happier, healthier lives and can, in turn, raise children who know emotional and physical safety, excel in school and social situations and are prepared to take on the challenges of their new life. In addition, it provides resources, support and referrals to other agencies and organizations that serve kinship families.

The goal of the Montana Kinship Navigator Program is twofold — to support kinship families caring for children through building safety, stability, permanency and well-being, as well as build community to link kinship families to community resources.



Brianna Routh is an MSU Extension Food and Family Specialist and Assistant Professor in Health and
Human Development.