The number of children in Kentucky being raised by someone other than a parent went up significantly in nearly every county from 2000 to 2010, new U.S. Census figures show.
The jump was dramatic in some places — 283 percent in McCracken County, for instance, which was the highest, and 148 percent in McCreary County, according to an analysis of data by the Herald-Leader.
Police and other officials said a debilitating level of substance abuse is one key factor in the statewide increase.
Abuse of prescription pills and other drugs leaves parents unable or unwilling to care for their children, or lands parents behind bars for drug crimes or other crimes, such as theft, that are related to abuse and addiction, officials said.
The problem results in children being placed in the care of other relatives or foster parents, often by court action but also through family arrangements.
"Nine times out of 10 for us, it is substance-abuse issues," said Stacie Noble, who oversees a program that assists grandparents raising their grandchildren in the Kentucky River Area Development District, which covers eight counties in southeastern Kentucky.
McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden agreed that problems with abuse of prescription drugs, methamphetamine and cocaine have driven up the number of children in his county being cared for by someone other than a parent.
"We actually see that quite often in a lot of the drug cases we work," Hayden said of the need to have someone else care for a child.
The poor economy also might play a role, as parents unable to adequately provide for children send them to live with others, Hayden said.
The percentage of children living in households headed by someone other than a parent increased tenfold in some counties from 2000 to 2010.
By last year, 15 percent or more of all the children in some counties were not living with their biological parents, according to the paper's analysis of the data.
The highest total was in Owsley County, where 21.6 percent of the children were living with someone other than a parent.
Only four counties saw a decline in that trend.
The figures on children being raised by someone other than their parents were included in new information the U.S. Census Bureau released early Thursday.
The agency has issued new data from its 2010 count several times this year.
Many of the children being cared for by someone other than a biological parent are living with grandparents.
There were more than 86,000 households in the state in 2010 with people raising the children of their children, according to the census data.
Grandchildren come into the care of their grandparents for a number of reasons, including substance abuse; the inability or unwillingness of parents to care for their children; and illness, disability or death, said Deborah Anderson, commissioner of the state Department for Aging and Independent Living, which helps grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
In one program, which provides money for grandparents to buy school clothes and meet other needs of their resident grandchildren, the number of people assisted in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2011, which ended in June, was greater than in the entire previous year, Anderson said.
Melinda Mann of Lee County, who with her husband, Walter, is raising three grandsons, said the voucher program and other services such as food stamps and Medicaid are a great help, but raising a grandchild can still put grandparents in a financial pinch.
Mann, 47, said she held a job before her three grandchildren came to live with her. Now, she can't find work that would let her be off at the same time as her grandchildren or stay home in the summer when they're out of school.
The couple had to move to a larger house — with higher payments — after taking in their grandchildren. And there's no program to pay for gas for trips to the doctor with one grandson, who has health problems, Mann said.
Mann said she and her husband got the three boys, now ages 10, 7, and 5, because their parents had drug and other problems and weren't caring for them properly. Her son and daughter-in-law were in prison at one point, Mann said.
Taking in grandchildren is a major lifestyle change, Mann and others said.
At a time when people begin to think about retiring or traveling, they're thrust instead into caring for kids for the second time around.
Mann said she and her husband came and went as they pleased before, and had planned to travel more to see relatives out of state. The expense of traveling with three children prevents that.
"Everything that we had planned went on the back burner," Mann said.