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Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, a New Report on the Needs of Children Living with Extended Family Released

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE                         Contact:      Linda O’Neal

Until 12:01 a.m. EDT, May 23, 2012                         
Phone:  (615) 741-2633                                                       Pam Brown

Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, a New Report on the Needs of Children Living with Extended Family Released

Nashville –– Children belong in families. Family members or friends often reach out to care for children they already know and love when their parents are unable to care for them. The challenges these kinship families face – both emotional and financial – and recommendations to help them are addressed in a new KIDS COUNT Policy Report: Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families.

When children live with extended family members without their parents, it is referred to as kinship care. Across the country, these living arrangements grew rapidly over the past decade. Tennessee has one of the highest rates in the nation; one in every 20 Tennessee children – 5 percent– lives with family members or close family friends instead of their parents.

Kinship families are more likely to be headed by someone poor, single, older, less educated and unemployed than families in which at least one parent is present, the report said. However, kinship families often do not access services available and find barriers when seeking help. Children in kinship care are more likely to have disabilities and less likely to have health care coverage.

Children in kinship care are often at great risk because of circumstances beyond their control. Family members who care for them struggle to make ends meet and marshal the resources needed to support and nurture these children,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the Tennessee affiliate of the KIDS COUNT project.

Through subsidized permanent guardianship, Tennessee is one of 30 states providing long-term stability for children as an alternative to foster care in cases where adoption is not a good choice. Through public-private partnerships, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services also supports a Relative Caregiver Program to provide short-term financial help and other services for kinship families. In FY year 2011, 2,652 children were served by the program.

Despite research on the success of kinship care for children in state custody, according to the report, the percentage of children in state-supervised foster care cared for by relatives is among the lowest in the nation. The percentage of children in state custody placed in kinship care is 8 percent or approximately one in every 12 children in custody – much lower than the national average of nearly a fourth or one in four children in custody, placing Tennessee third from the bottom.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Increasing financial stability of kinship families, which, on average, have a lower income than other families and frequently have not sought or received the support for which they qualify;
  • Strengthening kinship families involved in the child welfare system, whose children are sometimes are diverted from the system without receiving needed monitoring or referrals for assistance;
  • Enhancing other community-based and government responses for kinship families, including legal help with the unique custody issues they face.

“If our communities are to succeed, we must join together to help families and even neighbors and friends care for children in these ‘families created by love,’ ” O’Neal said. “Understanding their different needs, we can create a flexible public infrastructure to help them.”

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth ( is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families.

The KIDS COUNT project has been ranking states on child well-being for over 20 years. It has recently expanded its publication schedule with Data Briefs and Policy Reports. The national KIDS COUNT Data Book will be released this summer, and additional reports will be available in the fall. KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation (, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children. TCCY will also release State of the Child in Tennessee reports, with county-by-county information, this year.

For more information, contact (615) 741-2633 or a TCCY regional coordinator. Stepping Up for Kids includes the latest kinship care data for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. This information will be available May 23 at 12:01 a.m. EDT on

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