More Children Raised by Relatives and Family Friends, Report Finds

Posted May 23, 2012
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease steppingupforkids 2012

What do Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, Sen. Olympia Snowe and Oprah Win­frey have in common?

They, like more than 2.7 mil­lion chil­dren in Amer­i­ca, were raised by grand­par­ents or oth­er rel­a­tives at some time in their lives. This long­time prac­tice has become more preva­lent in the last decade, which has seen an 18% increase in chil­dren liv­ing with rel­a­tives or close fam­i­ly friends because their par­ents can no longer care for them, accord­ing to a new KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. In fact, an esti­mat­ed 9% of youths will live with extend­ed fam­i­ly for at least three con­sec­u­tive months at some point before age 18.

The rise of this prac­tice, known as kin­ship care, demands imme­di­ate atten­tion, accord­ing to the report, Step­ping Up for Kids: What Gov­ern­ment and Com­mu­ni­ties Should Do to Sup­port Kin­ship Fam­i­lies. Many fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends who take on parental respon­si­bil­i­ties with their often-lim­it­ed incomes strug­gle to meet the basic needs of chil­dren — a prob­lem that could be alle­vi­at­ed with increased access to and aware­ness of gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ty programs.

The Casey Foun­da­tion is ded­i­cat­ed to improv­ing the lives of chil­dren and fam­i­lies, and that includes sup­port­ing extend­ed fam­i­ly and oth­ers who take on the respon­si­bil­i­ty of rais­ing kids,” Pres­i­dent and CEO Patrick McCarthy said. Research shows kids fare bet­ter when they remain in the safe, sta­ble and famil­iar envi­ron­ment that rel­a­tives can pro­vide. We urge state pol­i­cy­mak­ers to make cru­cial ben­e­fits and resources avail­able to kin­ship fam­i­lies so that their chil­dren can thrive and have the best shot at becom­ing suc­cess­ful adults.”

The new KIDS COUNT report details the types of chal­lenges kin­ship care­givers encounter:

  • Emo­tion­al. They must con­tend with child trau­ma from parental sep­a­ra­tion. And, as state agen­cies call on extend­ed fam­i­ly to take in kids who enter the child wel­fare sys­tem, they may deal with emo­tion­al and behav­ioral issues tied to abuse or neglect.
  • Legal. They some­times lack the nec­es­sary legal author­i­ty to enroll a child for school, access basic med­ical care or give med­ical con­sent. Require­ments for becom­ing licensed fos­ter par­ents, which aren’t always applic­a­ble to kin­ship fam­i­lies, present addi­tion­al hur­dles to receiv­ing the same ben­e­fits as non-rel­a­tives tak­ing in children.
  • Finan­cial. They are more like­ly to be poor, sin­gle, old­er, less-edu­cat­ed and unem­ployed, which makes tak­ing on such costs as child care and health insur­ance an extra bur­den. They often are unfa­mil­iar with avail­able gov­ern­ment sup­port pro­grams or strug­gle to access them, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of Tem­po­rary Assis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies (TANF) — the pri­ma­ry fed­er­al finan­cial aid pro­gram for low-income fam­i­lies. Even those who receive TANF have dif­fi­cul­ty mak­ing ends meet, with ben­e­fit lev­els aver­ag­ing $249 per month for one child and $344 for two — far below U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture esti­mates for the month­ly cost of rais­ing a child (an aver­age $990 for one; $1,980 for two).

Step­ping Up for Kids shows that kin­ship care is par­tic­u­lar­ly preva­lent in African-Amer­i­can fam­i­lies, where chil­dren are twice as like­ly as the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion to be raised by extend­ed fam­i­ly and close friends at some point. The report iden­ti­fies the var­i­ous cir­cum­stances — includ­ing death, child abuse or neglect, mil­i­tary deploy­ment, incar­cer­a­tion or depor­ta­tion — that lead extend­ed fam­i­ly to become pri­ma­ry caregivers.

It also high­lights rec­om­men­da­tions for states and com­mu­ni­ties to take advan­tage of exist­ing fed­er­al fund­ing for these fam­i­lies, and to strength­en them and help their kids flour­ish, avoid­ing greater costs down the road:

  • Remove bar­ri­ers with­in the child wel­fare sys­tem through poli­cies that for­mal­ly seek to involve rel­a­tives in a child’s care, and reforms to fos­ter-home licens­ing requirements.
  • Estab­lish laws and resources to bol­ster kin­ship fam­i­lies by pro­mot­ing sta­ble hous­ing, access to child health care and com­mu­ni­ty-based ser­vices for old­er relatives.
  • Increase their finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty through TANF-fund­ed pro­grams designed to meet their unique needs.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment already has a sol­id frame­work in place for serv­ing these fam­i­lies, and sev­er­al states have tak­en steps to active­ly sup­port extend­ed fam­i­ly and friends as they assume their new care­giv­ing roles,” said Robert Geen, direc­tor of fam­i­ly ser­vices and sys­tems pol­i­cy at the Foun­da­tion. Every state and com­mu­ni­ty needs to adopt such changes, espe­cial­ly address­ing the needs of low­er-income families.”

Step­ping Up for Kids includes the lat­est kin­ship care data for every state, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and the nation. This infor­ma­tion is avail­able in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter, which also con­tains the most recent nation­al, state and local data on hun­dreds of indi­ca­tors of child well-being. The Data Cen­ter allows users to cre­ate rank­ings, maps and graphs for use in pub­li­ca­tions and on web­sites, and to view real-time infor­ma­tion on mobile devices.

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