When biological parents can no longer raise their children or when children’s safety or well-being is at risk, grandparents, other relatives, and close family friends have traditionally stepped up as caregivers in Kentucky.
A new KIDS COUNT® report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, shows Kentucky has the second highest rate in the nation of children living with such “kin” caregivers.
Between 2008-2010, an average of 6 percent of Kentucky children lived with kin, representing 63,000 children, up from 31,000 during 1999-2001.
Kin become primary caregivers for children in a variety of circumstances. These include divorce, illness or death of a parent, parental deportation or incarceration, military deployment or employment opportunities in other states, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and child abuse. Many who take on parental responsibilities have limited incomes and struggle to meet the basic needs of children — a problem that could be alleviated with increased access to and awareness of supportive programs and services.
“When kids can’t safely remain at home, the next best choice is a new home with adults they know and trust,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Families caring for kin need access to the resources and benefits they are eligible for, in order to fulfill the responsibilities they have taken on.”
The new KIDS COUNT report details the various challenges kinship families experience:
· Financial. Kinship caregivers are willing to care for children, despite significant financial challenges. Caregivers raising kin are more likely to be poor, single, older, less-educated and unemployed, which makes taking on such additional costs as child care and health insurance an extra burden. They often are unfamiliar with available supports 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.
· Emotional. Kinship families must address the trauma children experience when separated from their parents. For those children placed with kin due to abuse or neglect by their parents, other emotional and behavioral issues also demand attention.
· 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.
The report highlights recommendations for states and communities to better support families taking care of their kin:
· Help families achieve financial stability through access to TANF-funded programs designed to meet their needs.
· Remove barriers within the child welfare system by involving relatives in the decisions about a child’s care and reforming foster-home licensing requirements.
· Bolster kinship families by helping relative caregivers secure stable housing, access to child health care and community-based services.
“Kentucky has a strong track record of placing children with their kin instead of in foster care. We can and should take steps to actively support extended family and friends as they assume new care giving roles,” added Brooks. “In so many ways, families taking care of kids is a Kentucky tradition. With the number of children being cared for by kin doubling, we can’t afford to let these families go unsupported.”
Nationally, the last decade has shown an 18 percent increase in the number of children who lived with kin. More than 2.7 million children in America were raised by kin between 2008-2010.
Stepping Up for Kids includes the latest kinship care data for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation.