May 25, 2012 -
More children than ever before are spending at least part of their childhoods in the care of grandparents, other relatives or family friends, according to a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its Florida partner, the Department of Child and Family Studies at the University of South Florida. Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families shows an 18 percent increase over the past decade in the number of children in kinship care – 2.7 million nationwide. Four percent, or 164,000 of Florida’s children, are in public and private kinship care, according to USF. Of the children in foster care who remain in state custody, 43 percent live with a relative or family friend. Many such caregivers take on the responsibility without government assistance, but others cannot, so advocates are pushing to develop community and public policy responses. Three mentioned in the Casey Foundation report include removing barriers to kinship care in the child welfare system, supporting kinship families via housing assistance, health care and other community-based services, and stabilizing struggling families with financial assistance. Roy Miller, president of the Children's Campaign, said the trend is part of why Florida advocates have been fighting cuts by the Legislature to mental health and substance abuse programs and to health care for low-income families. "It stands to reason," said Miller, that "if parents themselves are in crisis and unable to access intervention services, they will be unable to care for their children, resulting in increased and often preventable removals from the home."