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Kinship care beats foster care for raising kids – support needed

An estimated 2.7 million children are being cared for by extended family such as grandparents and other relatives, who are likely to be poor, elderly and unemployed, according to a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report that urges new support and resources for them.

By The Associated Press / May 24, 2012

Extended-family caregivers, grandparents and other relatives who raise children whose parents are unable to care for them, are more likely to be poor, elderly, less educated and unemployed, according to the report. Morrisella Middleton, in her Baltimore home in 2011, raised three of her grandchildren, from left, LaQuanna Jordan, Shane Morrell, Jr. and Bryonna Reed,

Mike Stog/MikeStogPhotography.com/AP

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As more of America's children are raised by relatives other than their parents, state and local governments need to do better in helping these families cope with an array of financial and emotional challenges, a new report concludes.

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Compared with the average parent, these extended-family caregivers are more likely to be poor, elderly, less educated, and unemployed, according to the report, "Stepping Up For Kids", being released Wednesday by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Yet despite these hurdles, child-welfare experts say children who can't be raised by their own parents fare better in kinship care than in the regular foster care system.

"We urge state policymakers to make crucial benefits and resources available to kinship families so that their children can thrive," said the Casey Foundation's president, Patrick McCarthy.

According to 2010 census data, about 5.8 million children, or nearly 8 percent of all U.S. children, live with grandparents identified as the head of household. However, many of those children have one or both of their parents in the household, as well as grandparents.

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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