The Maine Children’s Alliance is pleased to join the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a 2012 KIDS COUNT outreach partner. In its first policy report of the year, the Foundation explores the increased number of children living with extended family and close friends, a longtime practice known as kinship care. Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families includes the latest data for states, the District of Columbia, and the nation, as well as a set of recommendations on how to support kinship families. This information also is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, a source for information on hundreds of indicators of child well-being.
Approximately 8,000 Maine children are cared for by relatives or family friends. In the past decade, the number of Maine children in kinship care has more than doubled, from 3,000 children. Placement with “kin” can help protect children and maintain strong family, community and cultural connections. The report identifies a number of key reasons children may live with extended family or friends including: abuse or neglect by a parent; parent illness or death; parental substance abuse or mental illness; incarceration; domestic violence; military deployment; or parent relocation to another state for employment.
As the result of abuse or neglect in the home, approximately 5 percent of Maine’s children are in kinship care through a formal state-supervised foster care placement. However, the vast majority of the children live with a relative or friend through a private or informal arrangement. Some children who come to the attention of the child welfare system are voluntarily placed with a relative or family friend through a “safety plan.”
The Stepping Up for Kids report focuses on the financial, emotional and legal challenges relatives and friends face when they care for the 95 percent of the children in kinship care, who are not in state custody. Many kinship caregivers take on this responsibility with little or no governmental assistance. According to the report, ‘”Regardless of where they turn for help, kinship families share two fundamental challenges: the emotional, physical, and financial strain of raising children who have experienced the trauma of parental separation; and the limitations of government systems that do not adequately understand or meet the unique needs of extended families.”
Maine is fortunate to have organizations that help kinship caregivers navigate the laws, systems and services that affect these families and children. For example, Maine Kids-Kin (www.mainekids-kin.org) works with kinship families across the state, providing services that include individualized case management, support groups, and information and referrals for making family, legal and financial decisions.
According to Don Lynch, Maine Kids-Kin Program Director, the organization’s work extends beyond providing help to individual kinship families. “We also advocate for public policy that helps families navigate complex issues and programs,” Lynch explains. “This spring the state legislature passed important legislation that will help ensure that students in kinship care will be able to attend the school in the district where they live when it best meets their needs. It also clarifies an appeal process for kinship caregivers.”
The Stepping Up for Kids report provides detailed information on the challenges kinship caretakers face and offers concrete recommendations for improving policies to better serve these families.