Kentucky has second highest rate of kids living with relatives, family friends

Kentucky has the second highest rate in the nation of children living with relatives or close family friends instead of biological parents, according to a report from a national foundation released Wednesday.

Between 2008 and 2010, an average of 6 percent of Kentucky children lived with such kin caregivers, representing 63,000 children, up from 31,000 during 1999-2001, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That is second only to Mississippi, according to the report, which is called Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families.

Nationally, more than 2.7 million children in America were raised by kin between 2008 and 2010, according to the report.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said "tough economic times," more drug abuse and accelerated demands on the foster care system could be sending more children into the homes of relatives than in the past.

"Kinship care could mushroom in the next decade," he said.

Kentucky Youth Advocate officials said relatives and close family friends become primary caregivers for children in a variety of circumstances, including divorce, illness or death of a parent, parental deportation or incarceration, military deployment or employment opportunities in other states, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and child abuse.

Brooks said that many who take on parental responsibilities have limited incomes and struggle to meet the basic needs of children — a problem that could be alleviated with increased access to and awareness of programs and services that are available to them.

"Families caring for kin need access to the resources and benefits they are eligible for, in order to fulfill the responsibilities they have taken on," Brooks said.

Kentucky ranked the fourth lowest in 50 states of children in state foster care who are allowed to live with relatives, said Amy Swann, a policy analyst with Kentucky Youth Advocates.

But Swann said the courts, with recommendations from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, also place a large undetermined number of children with relatives or close family friends each year without going through the foster care system.

The report makes several recommendations on what states can do to help relatives and close family friends, including removing barriers within the child welfare system by involving relatives in the decisions about a child's care.

State and local officials can also help relative caregivers secure stable housing, access to child health care and community-based services, the report said.

"Let's make sure all the cylinders in state government are firing in a way that helps those kids," Brooks said.