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Study focuses on value of, challenges facing, kinship custody/care

Sometimes it's far from easy determining child custody arrangements that fit easily within the contours of what constitutes a child's best interests.

What if the parents die, become incarcerated, have drug or alcohol addiction issues and simply cannot provide adequate care to a child? What if, following divorce, a nuclear family just completely falls apart?

Many people automatically think state foster care in such an instance. A new report just issued by a private organization dedicated to bettering the lives of disadvantaged kids points, though, to what is commonly termed the "kinship care" system that offers great promise throughout the country yet is often undervalued and rife with challenges.

Kinship care equates essentially to the care-giving system provided through a child's extended family, which can consist loosely of one or more grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other friends and family members.

"Stepping up for Kids," the report just released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, notes that kinship families tend to often be older, less educated and more financially challenged than "traditional" families. Notwithstanding those seeming limitations, however, most kids who come to such families because they cannot be adequately raised by their own parents reportedly do better than children who are placed into regular foster care.

The Casey study indicates that about 2.7 million children in the United States are raised in kinship families, and that the number has increased by nearly 20 percent over a recent 10-year period.

State practice varies widely for how children are formally placed into kinship families. As the report notes, only about six percent of children are in a formal kinship care relationship in Virginia, whereas that figure exceeds 40 percent in Florida.

Kinship care providers are "doing a heroic job in keeping these kids part of the family, and they deserve our gratitude," says one expert in social work. Advocates say that caregivers need more outreach resources and support, as well as more knowledge concerning what state and federal programs they qualify for.

Helping caregivers is a win-win situation for all people, says one child advocate, who notes that U.S. taxpayers save about $6 billion a year through kinship care, owing to costs that do not have to be expended on foster care.

Source: Fox News, "Report: More support needed for kinship caregivers," May 23, 2012

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