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Kinship care beats foster care for raising kids – support needed

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The Casey report focuses on the estimated 2.7 million children being raised in the absence of their parents by grandparents, other relatives or close family friends. The report says this category of children — whose parents might be dead, incarcerated, implicated in child abuse or struggling with addiction — increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The majority of such living arrangements are established informally, but as of 2010 there also were 104,000 children formally placed in kinship care as part of the state-supervised foster care system.

These children accounted for 26 percent of all children removed from their homes by child welfare agencies and placed in state custody, but practices vary widely. In Florida and Hawaii, kinship care accounts for more than 40 percent of the children in foster care; in Virginia, the figure is only 6 percent.

Through the Fostering Connections Act of 2008 and other programs, federal funds are available to assist children who leave foster care to live under the legal guardianship of relatives. However, states vary in how generously they allocate such funds, and the Casey report said more outreach is needed to ensure that kinship-care families know their options.

"They're trying to navigate this system on their own, and there's not a lot of knowledge about what benefits they're eligible for," said Mark Testa, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work.

"They're actually doing a heroic job in keeping these kids part of the family, and they deserve our gratitude," he said. "Without them, our foster care system would be overwhelmed."

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