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Report: Caring for Kin Can Be Encouraged

May 23, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - The number of American children living with extended family has been climbing over the past decade, according to a Kids Count report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. About 2.7 million children, including 276,000 in the Lone Star State, live with relatives or close family friends. Research shows that so-called "kinship care" is typically the best option for children separated from parents in the wake of child abuse or neglect, a parent's incarceration, military deployment, or death.

Texas Kids Count Director Frances Deviney thinks more relatives would step in to help, if they knew they didn't have to shoulder the burden by themselves.

"They may not be part of a system that can let them know that they would be eligible for assistance with health care, or assistance with housing, or assistance with child care. All of those may be available to them, but they just aren't aware of it."

She says there should be more avenues for kinship-care families to gain legal standing, including easier access to foster-care licenses.

Deviney thinks Texas has been doing a good job of placing more and more foster kids with relatives. But she says direct assistance to non-foster families is far too low, another reason some people decide not to take in extended family members.

"We could make a choice to support those families at a higher rate, so that they can provide for the children who are coming to them that they didn't really expect, and I'm sure are happy to have. But a lot of times they can't afford to keep a kid."

The Legislature last session cut portions of the state's child protective services budget that encourage family reunification. The move might have saved money in the short term, but Deviney says it will ultimately cost taxpayers, as more children are placed in more expensive foster care.

The report says one in 11 U.S. children will experience kinship care at some point before turning 18.

See report at www.AECF.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX