Report Urges State Agencies to Address Growing Kinship Care Needs

A new report finds that more American children are living under kinship care with relatives or family friends instead of their parents, than a decade ago.

The report, published by Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT project , entitled "Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families", found that approximately 2.7 million children are currently living with people other than their parents, an arrangement also known as kinship care. The report also found that about 9 percent of the nation’s youth will live under care of an extended family member for at least three months at some point in their childhood.

The authors of the report claim that kinship care needs to be addressed by both community and government programs, as many times family members or friends that assume parental responsibilities are hampered by limited income and the legal inability to obtain basic medical services or authorize medical consent for the children in their care.

According to the report, kinship care guardians are very likely to be poor, single, older, less educated and/or unemployed and are often unfamiliar with federal assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Even with financial assistance, the authors of the report say kinship care guardians are likely to experience financial shortcomings, as the benefit levels for TANF recipients averages out at $249 a month for single-child households and $344 for households with two children.

According to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, the average monthly cost of raising a child in the United States is assumed to be $990, while two-child households are assumed to cost guardians, on average, an estimated $1,980 a month.

The report says that kinship care is especially prevalent in African-American communities, where children are approximately twice as likely to be raised by extended family or close family friends than the nation’s general population.

The authors of the report recommend several steps for communities and state agencies to help children in kinship care, including reform of foster-home licensing requirements and the use of TANF-funded programs to supplement low-income guardians.

“The federal government already has a solid framework in place for serving these families and several states have taken steps to actively support extended families and friends as they assume their new care giving roles,” Robert Green, Director of Family Services and Systems Policy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is quoted in a recent press release from the organization.

“Every state and community needs to adopt such changes, especially addressing the needs of lower-income families," he said.

One Agency’s Budget Struggles Typical of Nation

Opening slide to DCANP Sustainability MeetingsAlabama’s only agency designated to prevent child abuse and neglect, among the many juvenile justice departments around the nation grappling with a smaller budget, will serve nearly half the number of kids in 2012 as they did in 2011.

The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention (DCANP) is preparing to cut 74 community-based programs around the state when the new budget takes effect October 1. The cuts bring the total number of programs to just 101 for FY 2012, compared to 227 funded in FY 2005.

The reduction in services represents roughly 14,000 kids that will no longer have access to community-based prevention programs.

“I’m really concerned with the burden of the system as a whole,” says Kelley Parris-Barnes, director of the DCANP. “When you take the community-level programs out you don’t have the capacity in the state to do it.”

The DCANP doesn’t deliver services directly. Rather, the department funds a variety of community-based prevention and education programs. According to Barnes, community members have the capacity and cultural relationship to identify at-risk children long before state-level agencies are able to.

The financial challenges facing the department and the state as a whole are not much different than those facing local governments throughout the United States. Texas, Idaho, Louisiana and many others have witnessed a reduction in juvenile related services.

“There’s not a state, county or city not making the same evaluation with the current budget situation we’re in,” says state Rep. Jack Williams, the Republican chair of Alabama’s Children and Senior Advocacy Committee, adding the committee plans to look at the effectiveness of existing programs and set benchmarks for the future.

“If an agency is serving children in need and doing an effective job I want to do everything I can to support them in the greatest capacity the state has, but we’re going to have to set some benchmarks,” Williams says. “At some point there is going to have to be a line and if you fall below it, the state is not going to be helping [with funding] anymore.”

The DCANP has already seen some steep state-level cuts in writing. When the budget takes effect at the beginning of October the agency will lose nearly 75 percent of its funding from the state’s General Fund and almost a third from Alabama’s Education Trust Fund.

click to download
A letter 'for prevention' to Sue Bell Cobb. Click to download.

Also gone completely is $1.5 million in federal money to fund the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, and roughly $200,000 from other federal funding.

“The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention should be the last thing cut in the state budget because of the far-reaching consequences for the safety of children,” says Sue Bell Cobb, former Alabama Chief Justice and long-time child advocate.

In a letter to Cobb, DCANP director Parris-Barnes outlined the effectiveness of community-based prevention programs, citing the fact that every dollar spent on child preventative services represents a minimum of $5.68 in state savings.

In the interim, the department and other child advocacy groups in the state are looking to keep programs afloat through a variety of measures. The DCANP has been holding sustainability meetings with program leaders from around the state to outline the impact of specific cuts to each district. Among the topics were tactics for pursuing outside funding and getting children into alternative programs.

click for budget cut's impact by district
Click for budget cut's impact by district

Alabama’s Children First Foundation is drawing plans to advocate for an increased tobacco tax in an effort to drum up additional funding for child services in the state.

“All child advocates in Alabama are extremely concerned about the reduction in funding to the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and other child services,” Cobb said. “There’s still so much to be done because we’ve really never had the adequate funding or appropriate priority put on these [prevention] programs.”

In 2009, the last year data was available, Alabama ranked 46th among the states of children living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.

Alabama's governor's office was unavailable for comment prior to deadline.

The Continuing Problem of Child Poverty in the South

If you are a child in the United States living in poverty you probably live in the South. According to U.S. census data from 2009 (the last year data are available) the 10 states with the highest rates of child poverty were all in the South. All 10 states had child poverty rates more than 20 percent. In Mississippi, one out of every three children lives in poverty.

A look at teen birth rates reveals a similar cluster. The South is home to all 13 states with the most teen births.

For those who have watched Southern society for many years, the problem is as much cultural as it is economic.

According to Dr. Harvey Jackson, an expert on Southern history and Eminent Scholar in history at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, the statistics are not surprising.

“There are more children in poverty because there are more adults in poverty,” Jackson said. “This is a region of the country in which adults are poor and yet adults continue to have children even though they are poor.”

The problem is social, he says, especially concerning teen births.

“There are real cultural attitudes [in the South] that have to do with large families and premarital sex,” Jackson said. “And it is less condemned in certain communities in the South, particularly among the poor.

“If you’re going to deal with poverty or violence or any thing that a good Bible Belt place should not tolerate you’re going to be dripping with irony all the way to the publisher,” Jackson said.

Poverty in the South is also a product of years of under-investment in schools, after-school programs and hospitals, according to Tara Manthey, communications director for the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. These are all things that “we know help children and families thrive,” she said.

On top of that, southern states have more single-parent households, Manthey said. “That not only drags down their current income but also their potential income because the parent isn’t able to build assets or build education in the way that a two-parent family could,” she said.

But a solution won’t be easy to come by, Jackson says. “If you want to improve the lot of children you’ve got to improve the lot of adults, which makes the whole thing a whole lot more different.”

“Many Southerners have let poverty go because [they think] you can always count on the federal government to keep people from starving,” Jackson said. But funding to southern states is drying up, he says.

The recently published 2011 Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says:

The research is clear: Children who grow up in low-income families are less likely to successfully navigate life’s challenges and achieve future success. The younger they are and the longer they are exposed to economic hardship, the higher the risk of failure.

The report goes on to say a two-generation strategy is necessary to reverse the poverty trend. That strategy would “help parents put their families on a path to economic success” and “enhance children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development from birth.”

KIDS COUNT: Georgia Ranks Near Bottom of States Due to Increased Poverty

For the third year in a row, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book ranked Georgia 42nd overall. The KIDS COUNT report ranks states by measuring the health and safety of children using a variety of indicators. Georgia ranked in the bottom half of all indicators nationally.

The study found 37 percent of Georgia children lived in a single-parent household in 2009, a 1 percent increase from the year before, ranking Georgia 41st in the nation in this category.

Georgia saw increases in almost every measurement including:

  • Children living in poverty (+2 percent)
  • Children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment (+4 percent)
  • Teens aged 16-19 not in school and not working (+1 percent)
  • Teen deaths from all causes (+2 percent)

Only two measurements improved: The teen birth rate declined across all age groups and the number of teens aged 16 to 19 not in high school, who have not graduated fell by one percent. The infant mortality rate also dropped but only by 0.1 percent.

The economy was the trigger for many of the deteriorating numbers, including the increase in children living in poverty, says Heidi Reese-Anderson, client services coordinator with the Juvenile Justice Fund, an Atlanta-based child advocacy organization.

”The borderline individuals or families with children that were just making it by, having a place to live and feeding their families on a very low income -– that borderline is no longer a borderline,” Reese-Anderson said. As a result many children were suddenly, “homeless, hungry and neglected because their parents couldn’t maintain the little that they were holding on to before.”

According to Reese-Anderson, Georgia’s numbers will likely get worse before they get better, especially as the economy flirts with another recession.

KIDS COUNT: Significant Decline in Children’s Economic Well Being Over Past Decade

There has been a significant decline in economic well being for low-income children and families in the last decade, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Among the findings, the official child poverty rate, a conservative measure of economic hardship according to the report, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009. The increase represents 2.4 million more children now living below the federal poverty line, returning to roughly the same levels as the early 1990’s.

“In 2009, 42 percent of our nation’s children, or 31 million, lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line or $43,512/year for a family of four, a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” Laura Speer, associate director for Policy Reform and Data at the Casey Foundation, said in a press release. “The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990’s.”

In the past two decades, since the Casey Foundation started the KIDS COUNT report, significant gains have been recorded in the overall health and safety of children.

Since 2000, five of the ten key indicators of child well being examined by the Foundation improved, three areas worsened and two were not comparable to earlier data, but show a negative trend since 2007, the earliest year comparable data is available.

Areas that showed improvement since 2000:

• Infant mortality rate (-1 percent)
• Child death rate (-14 percent)
• Teen death rate (-7 percent)
• Teen birth rate (-15 percent)
• Teens not in school and not high school graduates (-45 percent)

Areas that worsened since 2000:

• Babies born with low birthweight (+8 percent)
• Child poverty rate (+18 percent)
• Children living in single-parent families (+10 percent)

Areas not comparable to 2000:

• Percentage of teens not in school and not working
• Percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment

The 2011 report also includes two additional indicators: parental unemployment and foreclosure. Last year, 11 percent of children had at least one unemployed parent and 4 percent have been affected by foreclosure since 2007.

Within each indicator, however, individual state performances vary widely.

Nationally, the number of children living in a single-parent household increased by 10 percent since 2000. Only Utah, Oregon and the District of Columbia showed a decrease, while 45 states reported an increase.

Texas, with single-family households at roughly the national average of 34 percent, witnessed a similar trend with a 7 percent increase.

“I don’t think these findings are surprising,” said Mark Levin, director of Right on Crime, a Texas-based think tank that deals in part with juvenile issues, adding that only about 20 percent of incarcerated youth in the state have a father in the household. “The role of government isn’t to force people to get married or stay married, but in our public schools we can look at filling the gap and try to provide the support and guidance they’re [children] not getting at home.”

Mississippi showed improvements in infant mortality and low birth weights, but has consistently ranked 50th throughout the past decade in overall performance. In 2011, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama ranked the lowest in the nation overall.

“[Alabama] has always had a higher poverty rate than the rest of the nation,” said Linda Tilley, executive director of Voices for Alabama’s Children. “We see so many children already behind when they enter kindergarten and the gaps don’t narrow, they widen. Education and particularly early care and education are the key to breaking the generational cycle of poverty.”

“Every child can succeed given the right education and support,” Levin added. “It’s important to note many youths from single family houses go on to be successful."

The complete report, mapping tools, and other resources are available on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s website.

Children’s Agencies Push for Data Driven Progress, Common Goals at Statewide Conference

Georgia ranks near the bottom on almost every index of child well-being charted by KIDS COUNT, the annual survey that tracks children and families in all 50 states.  While the state has made progress on issues like child deaths, teen pregnancy and high school graduation rates, Georgia sits at #42.

So when 500 people who provide services for children got together this week at the Georgia Conference on Children and Families, they had plenty to talk about.

Leaders of the largest state agencies and non-profits who guide child policy came together in front of a full house on Wednesday to send a message about sharing common goals and measuring progress with data.

Normer Adams

“We have to work together by developing outcomes we agree to and track,” said Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children. "Child welfare has changed so much over the years it really needed a break from the past. We have moved away from the model of child rescue to the model of family restoration. It’s more informed by research and outcomes than in the past. What we know from research is that children are best cared for by their families."

At a time of severe budget cuts, state agencies are relying on data to make the best of limited resources. Garland Hunt, commissioner of Juvenile Justice explained, “We’re doing a bigger job with fewer resources. It breaks down to the right service for the right child at the right time.”


B. J. Walker, commissioner of Human Services, pointed out that data can look like the enemy in the business of child welfare. But she said, “Data helps you know which road to take and how long to stay on it. “

Agreement came from Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children, and Brian Castrucci, director of the Maternal Child Health Program.

Page Walley

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which created KIDS COUNT, urges states to use the numbers strategically. Dr. Page Walley, a psychologist and the managing director for strategic consulting at Casey Family Programs, told the group, “Keeping score matters. What gets measured gets done.”

Getting key players on the same platform to talk about common goals is just the first step.  "Everyone would acknowledge we need a common framework," Adams added, "but not everyone agrees on what that should be."

For Gaye Smith, executive director of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, the challenge is to get every provider and agency to agree on the common framework. Goals for children generally center on health, school achievement, risky behaviors, and stable families.  But Smith pointed out that each organization uses different wording, and some have different approaches.

“Other states have measured cohesively and talked across agencies,” said Smith. “When we talk about a vision for children and where we are, we can get further if we all talk about the same things.”

The three-day conference at Lake Lanier has evolved from a foster care conference to a much larger event this year that included all stakeholders in child welfare, from juvenile court judges and the Department of Education, to caseworkers and  private providers. Three dozen workshops focused on issues like zero tolerance in schools, substance abuse, children in need of services, teen parents in foster care, and working with LBGTQ youth.

Ten agencies partnered to organize the conference.  Here's the list with links to their home pages: The Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Georgia Family Connection Parnership, the Foster Family-Based Treatment Association, the Georgia Alliance of Therapeutic Services, the Georgia Court Appointment Special Advocates, JUSTGeorgia, and the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children.

KIDS COUNT: 22% of Georgia Kids Live in Poverty

New Data from KIDS COUNT shows more children are living in poverty across the country, while the poverty rate for children in Georgia stands at 22%.   The updated numbers include data from the U.S. Census bureau.  You can look up states, cities and for the first time congressional districts.

“These numbers should be a major wakeup call,” said Laura Beavers, national KIDS COUNT coordinator at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “The economic success of America’s children and families, now more than ever, depends on the financial stability of the communities they live in.”

Among other things, the database includes a survey of teenage risky behaviors from 2007-2008.  Here’s what they report from Georgia:

  • 7% engaged in binge drinking
  • 5% used marijuana
  • 4% use other illicit drugs