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Report: More Relatives Step In to Care for MT Kids

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

MISSOULA, Mont. - For more than 8,000 children in Montana, grandma, grandpa or an aunt is playing the role of "parent." And a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows it's a growing trend.

Montana Kids Count Director Thale Dillon says kinship care is usually best for children, whether done through the foster care system or informally, although there are incentives to make it official.

She explains that when it's informal, assistance is limited.

"It's incredible. In Montana, a TANF payment for one child is $298. For a foster care minimum payment, it's $487."

TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is the only option for informal care arrangements.

Children end up with relatives or close family friends because of military deployments, parental death, substance abuse or mental illness, incarceration, or child abuse and neglect. The report recommends states do more to help kinship caregivers, and Dillon says Montana has made progress with policies on medical consent and education.

She says the biggest challenge is getting word to informal kinship caregivers about the benefits of making it "official," although she believes this report will help.

"Educating people about becoming foster parents, rather than kinship care, to get that increased subsidy."

Other resources available to children being cared for by relatives include child care assistance, housing, Medicaid and SNAP.

Nationwide, the report says, the number of children in kinship care has risen 18 percent in the past decade.

The report,"Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families," is at
www.AECF.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT