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Report: Kinship Care for Children on the Rise

The number of children being raised by extended family members or close family friends has risen by 18 percent over the past decade to more than 2.7 million youngsters, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

These "kinship care" arrangements—through both formal and informal channels—are being more heavily relied on by families than in years past, the foundation finds in a new report. At some point during childhood, one in 11 kids will live in kinship care for at least three consecutive months before the age of 18. For black children, that rate is more than double, with an average of one in five experiencing kinship care during childhood. There are myriad reasons for kinship care: child abuse, addicted or incarcerated parents, domestic violence, military deployment, to name just a few.

While a growing body of research suggests that most children who are separated from their parents do better in kinship-care arrangements than in state custody arrangements such as foster care, these families face many hardships. For starters, these caregivers are more likely to be poor, single, older, less educated, and unemployed than families where at least one parent is present. In addition to taking on additional financial and emotional burdens of caring for a child, these caregivers—particularly grandparents—often must cope with feelings of shame or guilt that are connected to the circumstances that led to the kinship-care arrangement.

The report says that these families are also less likely to tap governmental and nonprofit resources to help ease the challenges, especially Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which in most states, provides cash assistance to children living apart from their parents even when they are living with relatives who are not eligible for such aid. In fact, less than 12 percent of kinship families receive TANF support, even though nearly all the children would be eligible, the report found. And because most of these families don't get TANF help, they miss out on other forms of public assistance, such as child-care assistance.

To lighten the burden on kinship caregivers, the report makes a series of policy recommendations for states and communities to adopt, such as making access to financial assistance less burdensome, allowing caregivers who are not legal guardians to enroll children in school, and providing low-cost legal assistance.

Coincidentally, a bill in Virginia that would have empowered grandparents and other kinship caregivers to enroll children in neighborhood schools by demonstrating that a parent had given them power of attorney was just vetoed by Gov. Robert McDonnell, who said a court order should be required to do so.

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