Support Gap in Kinship Care

Jun. 24, 2012 / By

By John Oliver-Santiago

 John Oliver is a former VoiceWaves Journalist and a 2012 Education Reporting for Youth Fellow. These fellows report on education-related issues, connecting hyper-local stories to the larger discussion revolving around California’s education system and related policies. It comes at a critical time as California considers further reductions to an education budget already reeling from massive cuts.

There are currently 2.7 million kids in the U.S. who are under kinship care. And according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this number has increased 18% from 2001 to 2010. There are many ways children can end up in kinship care including parental death, incarceration, abuse, or service in the military.

Kinship care includes children who are currently under the care of non-parental relatives: grandparents, uncles, aunts, or family friends, and can be broken down into two types: private or public. Private kinship is an informal arrangement made within the family, while public kinship is made through the foster care system.

Since one in every four foster kids are already living with relatives, it’s surprising that more aren’t placed under public kinship care. The foster system is a highly bureaucratic process meant to ensure the utter safety of these kids, but has this produced an oversight where kinship care is leapfrogged and kids in the foster system are placed with strangers?

For example, a longtime friend has been trying to gain custody of her two younger sisters for the past few years. Though she and her father live together and show a capacity to provide for the two sisters, they’ve only succeeded in gaining visitation rights and time spent with the girls. The many legalities that the family has to go through to gain custody has only brought further emotional toll on all parties involved.

According to the study, placing kids in kinship care eases the emotional toll of parental removal. But kinship care is also burdened with many problems, namely a lack of government support.

Sixty percent of kids in kinship care have a primary guardian that is over 50 years old. 38% are currently below the poverty line. Therefore, with aging guardians and families in poverty, both public and private kinship care households receive less money than foster homes. The average monthly cost of raising one child is $990. Foster care homes, on average, receive $511 in benefits while kinship care only gets $249 in benefits. This disparity in governmental support undermines the benefits of kinship care.

Of course, the driving point of an exhaustive system is to make sure that a child is placed in the best care possible. For the government, they rationalize the best care as being someone who can best financially support a child. And that’s understandable. Kinship care is statistically not the best financial option for a child. But it does, based on the study, put the child in a much better emotional state.

The government can’t possibly regulate and quantitate emotion in placing a child in public or private care, but they can however better support kinship care. If the disparity in government support is erased, then kinship care would become a much more viable and readily available choice for parent-less children. 

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