Cathy and Frank Battle thought two children was the right number for their family. Their sons, Mitchell, 3, and Anthony, 5, fulfilled their lives and their dreams.
Then in April 1994, Cathy and Frank were shocked into expanding their family. Cathy's brother-in-law, Bob, was arrested for sexually abusing his children, and the county's protective services division determined that her sister Susan's serious drug abuse problems made her an unfit mother. "We knew that there was trouble in my sister's home," Cathy said."But we had no idea that the kids were being abused. We were stunned."
The Battles are among a fast-growing number of people who are caring for a relative's children in their own family. Sometimes, the caregiver is a brother or sister, as in the Battle case. More often, it is grandparents who step in to fill the shoes of a son or daughter too overwhelmed with problems to be a nurturing parent.
More than l.3 million American children are being raised by relatives other than their parents. Even more startling, the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren soared more than 40 percent in the last decade.
Sometimes the arrangement is informal: family members decide that a child will live with a selected relative and no child welfare agency is involved. Or it may be formal: an agency retains legal custody of a child while he or she is raised by a relative. Sometimes an agency is involved initially, to plan the child's care, but does not assume legal custody.
In either case, kinship parents, as defined by the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, DC, perform the following functions:
This factsheet examines the practice of kinship care. It looks at the reasons child protection agencies are turning to relatives to care for the children in their custody, the value of kinship care, the barriers that prevent more families from participating in such arrangements, the steps some States have taken to remove those barriers, and what else needs to be done to ensure that agencies consider family first when placing a child in a foster or adoptive home.
Credits: Child Welfare Information Gateway (http://www.childwelfare.gov)
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