|A new KIDS COUNT® report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 19,000 West Virginia children, and more than 2.7 million children nationwide, were cared for by extended family members and close family friends.|
In West Virginia, this long-time practice has increased by an alarming 27 percent in the last decade.
In 2001, there were approximately 15,000 West Virginia children living with relatives or close family friends because their parents could no longer care for them.
By 2010, that number had increased to just over 19,000.
The rise of this practice, known as kinship care, demands immediate attention, according to the report.
Many family members and friends who take on parental responsibilities with their often-limited incomes struggle to meet the basic needs of children.
Calhoun is among several low-income West Virginia counties that is facing major problems related to the health and safety of children, with about 70% of the counties children eligible for free and reduced lunch.
National statistics indicate Calhoun and several rural West Virginia counties have high risk statistics for abuse and neglect, teen child pregnancy and domestic assault and battery.
State and federal regulations nationwide prefer placement with kin over families unknown to the children, only 13 percent of children in West Virginia in state supervised foster care are in a formal kinship arrangement.
"In the midst of very difficult budget choices, there are opportunities to help these families. For some it includes the earned income tax credit and assistance with childcare, and, for others, it could be Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or relative-foster care," said Margie Hale, Executive Director of West Virginia KIDS COUNT.
Those programs are at risk with Washington focusing on cutting-back social programs, politically polarized as "entitledments."
"These options increase the financial stability of kinship families and create a more stable environment for the children."
"The Casey Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families, and that includes supporting extended family and others who take on the responsibility of raising kids," President and CEO Patrick McCarthy said.
"Research shows that kids fare better when they remain in the safe, stable and familiar environment that relatives can provide. We urge state policymakers to make crucial benefits and resources available to kinship families so that their children can thrive and have the best shot at becoming successful adults."
The new KIDS COUNT report details the types of challenges kinship caregivers encounter:
FINANCIAL: They are more likely to be poor, single, older, less-educated and unemployed, which makes taking on such additional costs as child care and health insurance an extra burden. They often are unfamiliar with available government support programs or struggle to access them, particularly in the case of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) - the primary federal financial aid program for low-income families.
EMOTIONAL: They must contend with child trauma from parental separation, as well as possible emotional and behavioral issues tied to abuse or neglect.
LEGAL: They sometimes lack the necessary legal authority to enroll a child for school, access basic medical care or give medical consent. Requirements for becoming licensed foster parents, which aren't always applicable to kinship families, present additional hurdles to receiving the same benefits as non-relatives taking in children.
"Every state and community needs to adopt changes, especially addressing the needs of lower-income kinship families," said Hale.
Information available at www.aecf.org/kinship.