Across the country, aunts, uncles, grandparents or other family members serving in the parents, serving as the primary caregivers for more than 2.7 million children each day. According to the latest Census Bureau estimates, 54,000 of these children are in South Carolina.
The practice, known as kinship care, has always been with us: family stepping up to care for the children in times of need. This practice, however, has seen an 18 percent increase over the past decade. We wonder: why the increase, and how can we better support these families? How can we ensure that the child is stable?
The latest Annie E. Casey Kids Count Policy Report, Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should do to Support Kinship Families points out that many kin caregivers take on this responsibility without any form of government assistance. And, more than likely, many of these families are struggling themselves. Some families face lasting challenges: confronting the emotional, physical, and financial strain of raising children who have experienced the trauma of parental separation; and the limitations of government systems that do not meet, nor understand, the unique needs of the extended families.
An intense level of effort is required for kinship families to appropriately address these challenges, navigate a complicated and convoluted government system and gain information on the best practices of child development. It should be easier for those taking on the responsibility for children who need a new place to call home.
South Carolina Department of Social Services, like child welfare agencies in other states, recognizes kinship care as a best practice when feasible. It is the preferred option over out-of-home foster care with a stranger. It holds family bonds and promotes stronger family reunification.
Research demonstrates that foster children placed with their kin are less likely to experience psychiatric disorders, less likely to show behavioral problems and experience fewer school disruptions than those in non-kin settings. Today, more than one in four children in foster care are living with relatives.
In short, keeping a child with extended family or friends, when appropriate, helps the child maintain their identity, their culture and their sense of family. All of this leads to greater safety and stability for the child. Repeated studies demonstrated that kinship helps keep children maintain social bonds to their community and their family. They have greater safety and greater stability.
The factors driving a child into kinship care are varied and have vastly different degrees of severity. Factors commonly include parental substance abuse; mental illness; incidences of child abuse, neglect or abandonment; illness; death or incarceration or other reasons for a lengthy separation, such as military deployment.
Here are some basic facts:
- Over the last decade, there has been an 18 percent increase in children living with relatives or close family friends because their parents can no longer care for them.
- More than 2.7 million children in America are being raised by grandparents or other relatives.
- About 4 percent of all children are in kinship care. While only about 104,000 of them are in state-supervised foster care, they represent 26 percent of the overall foster care population.
- 1 in 11 children live in kinship for at least three consecutive months at some point before reaching their 18th birthday.
- The likelihood that African-American children will experience kinship care is more than double that of the overall population, with 1 in 5 black children spending time in care at some point during their childhood.
- According the U.S. Census Bureau, kinship caregivers are more likely to be poor, single, older, less educated, and unemployed than families in which one parent is present. These families not only face the emotional challenge of dealing with feelings of loss or guilt, but they also face challenges when it comes to enrolling in school, getting child health insurance, or having the legal authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf.
We want you to be part of this conversation. Tell us what you think should be done and how we can better support kin families. Make a comment here, on Facebook or message me directly.