The Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT policy report “Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families” was released last week, and shines a bright light on the strengths of kinship caregivers as well as the needs of kinship families.
Kinship care refers to private care without child protective services involvement as well as public kinship care in which families care for children who are involved with the child welfare system. There also is kinship foster care, which describes the subset of children who are placed with relatives but remain in the legal custody of the state.
According to the report, 1 in 11 US children lives in kinship care at some point before the age of 18. Nationally, these 2.7 million children are being raised by grandparents, aunts, and other relatives who step in when parents are unable to raise their children.
The report estimates that in Nevada, 19,000 children are in kinship care with no parents present. Foster Kinship, a Clark County nonprofit supporting individuals caring for their relative’s children, estimates the number of relatives supporting children as much higher when you add in the individuals who are heads of the household and responsible for children other than their own. The 2010 US Census for Clark County, NV shows 19,000 grandparents who are in some way caring for their grandchildren, and the number of children in Clark County, NV living in grandparent-headed homes today (35,451) is up by 5,000 from 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010; Las Vegas Junior League, 2008).
“A growing body of research confirms that, in most circumstances, kinship care is the best option when children cannot live with their own parents,” the report states. Placement frequency, attachment disorders, caregiver perception of the child and community connection are all more favorable in kinship care than unfamiliar foster care.
However, kinship caregivers are often unprepared for the challenges of “second time parenting” and the multiple systems they will encounter as they raise the child. The caregiver often lacks the necessary legal authority to enroll a child for school or give medical consent.
Caregivers may also be unfamiliar with available government support programs or struggle to access them, including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the federal financial aid program for low-income families. Less than 12% of kinship families receive TANF payments, although nearly 100% of the children in these families are eligible.
“Kinship caregivers, whether they obtain assistance from foster care or TANF, receive much less financial support that what the USDA estimates it costs to raise a child,” the report explains. As an example, a kinship caregiver raising two children outside of the foster care system, TANF benefits would only provide $344 per month, just 17% of the estimated $1,980 needed monthly.
Most families who receive TANF payments still need support, as the caregivers are likely to be poor, single, older, less-educated and unemployed, which makes taking on child care and health insurance costs an extra burden.
The report states private health insurance usually covers only biological and adoptive children, not children in kinship care, and caregivers are often unaware of children’s eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“An advocate for the kinship caregiver is extremely important,” says Ali O’Donnell, founder and executive director of Foster Kinship, “that is why we focus our resources and support exclusively on kinship caregivers. Informing and supporting kinship caregivers strengthens the families and increases the children’s chances for long-term success.”
“Kinship care helps protect children and maintains strong family, community and cultural connections. When children cannot remain safely with their parents, other family and friends can provide a sense of security, positive identity and belonging,” the report summarizes. Foster Kinship’s services aim to “stand in the gap” for caregivers and provide the support and resources to care for their relatives, and help keep home in the family for vulnerable children. Where services are not already available in the community or fall short of the needs of the family, Foster Kinship will work to provide assistance to this population through kinship caregiver support groups, resource direction, family days and financial support.
For more information on kinship caregiver assistance in Clark County, NV, or to find out how you can help, please visit www.fosterkinship.org or call (702) KIN-9988.