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Report: Extended Family Trees Shelter More OR Children

PHOTO: Grandfather reading to a child
PHOTO: Grandfather reading to a child
May 23, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - About 22,000 children in Oregon live with relatives other than their parents, and these extended family tree "branches" present challenges as well as benefits.

They are the topics of a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report released today, with recommendations for making such family arrangements more positive for kids and caregivers.

Oregon encourages kinship caregivers to become foster parents, which gives them more legal clout and financial benefits. However, Pamela Butler, child welfare policy manager at Children First for Oregon, says the rules are strict - and not many go through with it.

"I think you see that a lot with grandparents, across the country and in Oregon. Grandparents just take in the kids and they don't get that extra support, and they don't get any extra financing, because they think that becoming involved in the system would be too much for them. And maybe it might even be, sometimes."

Butler says everything from home size to past arrests can interfere with someone's ability to become a foster parent, even for a relative's child. She thinks there ought to be some exceptions made to keep children with family members when possible.

One casualty of the state budget crisis, she adds, is that Oregon makes little effort to locate family members of children placed in foster care. Some pilot projects have been successful, but she says they inevitably run out of money.

"You might be in care for a year, and we may have stopped looking for any family for you. And you could have an aunt in California or an uncle in Utah that is never contacted, who has the means and would love to take in the child."

Nationwide, the report says, the number of children being raised by extended family is up 18 percent in the past decade. It says kinship placements may be the result of health or mental-health issues, substance abuse or military deployment.

Many kinship caregivers are lower-income or retired, making it a financial strain to add young ones to their households. The report recommends that state and federal programs do more to support these caregivers, and to let them know about the help that is available. It is online at aecf.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR