This week’s cover story is about kinship care, the arrangement in which grandparents or other relative caregivers raise children who might otherwise wind up in foster care.
Coincidentally, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a major new report on the phenomenon today:
Data show that families are relying on kinship care at a much higher rate than in years past. In fact, over the past decade the number of children in kinship care grew six times faster than the number of children in the general population (18 percent versus 3 percent). Newly available data suggest that a large number of children spend time in kinship care at some point during their childhoods, with 1 in 11 children living in kinship care for at least three consecutive months at some point before the age of 18. 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 kinship care at some point during their childhood.
While many kinship care families value the emotional rewards of caregiving, they also experience serious hardship in taking on the full-time care of additional children. Raising children costs money and requires serious commitments of time, energy and attention. Kin who are given the unanticipated responsibility of caring for additional children quickly confront financial, health and social challenges. Many grandparents and other relatives raising children also struggle with feelings of guilt and shame about the family circumstances that led to the caregiving arrangement.
These challenges are all the more daunting when caring for children who have experienced trauma, and they are further exacerbated by the difficulties of navigating government and community support systems in an effort to meet children’s needs. In some cases, kinship care families lack the requisite legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the children in their care. While these challenges do not diminish the positive impact that kin can have on children, they do call attention to the need for comprehensive supports to address the common barriers facing these families.