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Number of Maine Kids in Care of Kin or Family Friends Soars

May 23, 2012

AUGUSTA, Maine - The number of Maine children in kinship care has more than doubled over the past decade, and the relatives and family friends taking care of them are in need of more support, according to a new report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation says in its report that there are approximately 8,000 kids in kinship care in Maine, up from 3,000 a decade ago. While the study warns of the stresses on relatives and friends caring for children not in state custody, Claire Berkowitz of the Maine Children's Alliance calls the report a "celebration" of kinship care.

"It talks about the stresses of it, but also why it's so good for the child to be with someone that they know and have a relationship with, when they're going through a traumatic time."

She says financial, emotional and legal challenges face caregivers, many of whom take on the responsibility with little or no governmental assistance. The report targets policymakers, offering them concrete recommendations to better serve these extended families.

Berkowitz says that kids in the care of kin are often there for a variety of reasons ranging from abuse or neglect, to parent illness or death, to incarceration, to military deployment, which can stress those who look after them.

"But there's also the financial burdens that it might put on a family member, specifically if someone is older and on a fixed income, having another person to take care of is difficult in terms of their economics."

Berkowitz says caregivers often aren't aware of sources of financial support and can learn how to obtain it by contacting organizations like Maine Kids-Kin.

"Kids do better when they're with a family member or a known adult who has that kind of family relationship with them. That's not to say there isn't the role of foster care and foster families."

The report points out that Maine's U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and President Barack Obama, along with more than 2.7 million other children in America, were raised by grandparents or other relatives at some time in their lives.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME