Kinship Care On The Rise, But Help For Families Still Lacking

When parents can’t take care of their children, kinship care–the practice of placing kids with relatives–is an increasingly common solution. However, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation is shedding light on the challenges these relatives face–especially grandparents, who often take on this responsibility. The Huffington Post reports:

Adrian Charniak’s grandson was born with cocaine in his blood. That’s the first reason the Illinois child welfare agency decided the boy’s parents weren’t fit to raise him. Charniak eventually won custody, but the court battles dragged on for more than a decade. Somewhere in her house are receipts for $100,000 in legal fees. “That’s my pension,” she said.

Charniak initially struggled with becoming a parent all over again and discovered that outside help can be difficult to acquire. While conventional foster parents can receive up to $700 per month for each child they foster, Cherniak was only entitled to a much smaller benefit through the federal government.

According to the study, only a fraction of people who care for their grandkids are formally recognized as foster parents by the child-welfare system.

The Casey Foundation makes the case that the rise of this longtime practice — “kinship care” — demands public policy attention. “Research shows kids fare better when they remain in the safe, stable and familiar environment that relatives can provide,” said Patrick McCarthy, the head of the foundation. “We urge state policymakers to make crucial benefits and resources available to kinship families so that their children can thrive and have the best shot at becoming successful adults.”

While some states have adopted formal guidelines in regard to kinship care, others leave kinship care providers at a disadvantage in comparison to foster parents. According to some experts, this is especially true for grandparents, since they may not be aware of new programs designed to help them.

“Often times, grandparents take children on unexpectedly, not necessarily having much time to prepare,” [Donna Butts, the director of the advocacy group Generations United, Butts] explained. “And it may have been a while since they have raised children on their own, so they might not be familiar with school-lunch programs or individualized education plans or some of the other supports that are there for families.”

Charniak–who is at least getting some assistance–is open about the realities of taking in a child so unexpectedly. After dipping into her own pension fund to cover the legal fees from gaining custody of her grandson, she’s already thinking about his future expenses:

Charniak said her grandson is turning out just fine, but she wouldn’t turn down some extra help. “Because he does want to go to college,” she said.