Monday, July 9, 2012

Annie E. Casey Foundation Releases New Report on Kinship Families

The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) recently released a Kids Count policy report: Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, which details the challenges faced by an increasing number of kinship families, the benefits of such an arrangement when it is necessary and how society can best support kinship families so they can thrive.

Kinship Care: Definition and Statistics

In kinship families, children are raised by extended family or a close family friend, rather than a biological parent. Reasons for kinship care include: parent physical illness, mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration or deportation and child abuse or neglect, among others.  Kinship arrangements can be informal/ private or public, the latter denoting child welfare system involvement.

Over the past 10 years, the number of children raised by kin has increased over 18 percent, six times the growth of the general child population. Currently, one out of every 11 children resides in a kinship care arrangement for at least three consecutive months before they turn 18; this is true for one of five African American children.


Kinship families struggle with disproportionate poverty, as well as legal, physical/ medical and emotional challenges. Firstly, the unanticipated care of additional children may strain tight household budgets and government benefits are likely to provide insufficient relief. According to a diagram from AECF’s report, the monthly cost of raising two children ($1,980) is significantly greater than the average monthly foster care benefits ($1,022) or monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits ($344). Furthermore, many kinship caregivers do not access government resources for which they are eligible. Only 12 percent of the nearly 100 percent of kinship families eligible for TANF receive this assistance, as illustrated by an AECF graphic. Secondly, kin sometimes lack the legal authority to oversee children’s school enrollment/ progress and medical care. Thirdly, kinship caregivers are often older than traditional parents (60% are over the age of 50), which can indicate higher likelihood of disability and retirement and lower energy levels. Lastly, children in kinship placements and their kin caregivers likely experience a complex array of emotions regarding their circumstance and may spend years coping with the trauma and/or loss that may have precipitated the arrangement.

Significant Benefits

Despite the challenges, research shows that kinship care is extremely beneficial for children who cannot live with their parents. According to AECF’s report, “the notion that children do better in families is a fundamental value that cuts across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic boundaries. Kinship care helps children maintain familial and community bonds and provides a sense of stability, identity and belonging, especially during times of crisis.” For example, children in kinship foster care have fewer school disruptions than non-kin foster care children who may have experienced similar traumas.

AECF Recommendations for Government and Community Support of Kinship Families

  1. Strengthen the financial stability of kinship families by promoting enrollment in government benefit programs for which kinship families are eligible and increasing the financial support provided by these programs. For example, AECF encourages states to increase TANF grant levels to reflect the actual cost of raising children.
  2. Support and encourage child welfare systems to utilize kinship placements by aligning and educating agency and court practitioners with research that documents the benefits of kinship care.
  3. “Harness the collective action of government agencies, state legislatures, businesses, the legal community, faith-based organization, and others [to create] an effective network” that supports kinship families’ needs, including quality legal representation, access to affordable healthcare and housing, authority over the medical attention received by the children in their care and the ability to enroll kinship children in school and oversee their educational progress.
For more information on kinship care and AECF’s recommendations, see: Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families.

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