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More West Virginia Children Raised By Relatives and Family Friends, Report Finds

Past decade sees a 27 percent increase in West Virginia children raised in kinship care;

Family and close friends who become caregivers often lack vital financial and community support


CHARLESTON, WV - May 23, 2012 - According to a new KIDS COUNT® report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 19,000 West Virginia children, and more than 2.7 million children nationwide, were cared for by extended family members and close family friends.* In West Virginia, this long-time practice has increased by an alarming 27 percent in the last decade. In 2001, there were approximately 15,000 West Virginia children living with relatives or close family friends because their parents could no longer care for them. By 2010, that number had increased to just over 19,000. Nationwide, there was an 18 percent increase in children living with relatives during the same period. In fact, the Casey Foundation estimates that nine percent of American youths will live with extended family for at least three consecutive months at some point before age 18.


The rise of this practice, known as kinship care, demands immediate attention, according to the report, Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families. Many family members and friends who take on parental responsibilities with their often-limited incomes struggle to meet the basic needs of children - a problem that could be alleviated with increased access to and awareness of government and community programs.

Even though state and federal regulations prefer placement with kin over families unknown to the children, only 13 percent of children in West Virginia in state supervised foster care are in a formal kinship arrangement, while in the U.S. that figure is 26 percent. A state's reliance on kinship families in its foster care program varies widely throughout the country from six percent to 46 percent. The failure to identify and engage family resources for children in foster care often means the loss of family connections and the loss of financial support so important to children throughout life.

"In the midst of very difficult budget choices, there are opportunities to help these families. For some it includes the earned income tax credit and assistance with childcare, and, for others, it could be Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or relative-foster care," said Margie Hale, Executive Director of West Virginia KIDS COUNT. "These options increase the financial stability of kinship families and create a more stable environment for the children."

"The Casey Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families, and that includes supporting extended family and others who take on the responsibility of raising kids," President and CEO Patrick McCarthy said. "Research shows that kids fare better when they remain in the safe, stable and familiar environment that relatives can provide. We urge state policymakers to make crucial benefits and resources available to kinship families so that their children can thrive and have the best shot at becoming successful adults."

The new KIDS COUNT report details the types of challenges kinship caregivers encounter:


  • Financial. They are more likely to be poor, single, older, less-educated and unemployed, which makes taking on such additional costs as child care and health insurance an extra burden. They often are unfamiliar with available government support programs or struggle to access them, particularly in the case of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) - the primary federal financial aid program for low-income families.
  • Emotional. They must contend with child trauma from parental separation, as well as possible emotional and behavioral issues tied to abuse or neglect.
  • Legal. They sometimes lack the necessary legal authority to enroll a child for school, access basic medical care or give medical consent. Requirements for becoming licensed foster parents, which aren't always applicable to kinship families, present additional hurdles to receiving the same benefits as non-relatives taking in children.


Stepping Up for Kids shows that kinship care is particularly prevalent in African-American families, where children are twice as likely as the general population to be raised by extended family and close friends at some point in their lives. The report identifies the various circumstances - including death, child abuse or neglect, military deployment, incarceration or deportation - that lead extended family members to become primary caregivers.


It also highlights recommendations for states and communities to take advantage of existing federal funding for these families and to strengthen them and help their kids flourish, avoiding greater costs down the road:


  • Increase their financial stability through TANF-funded programs specifically designed to meet their unique needs.
  • Remove barriers within the child welfare system through policies that formally seek to involve relatives in a child's care and through reforms to foster-home licensing requirements.
  • Establish laws and resources to bolster kinship familiesby promoting stable housing, access to child health care and community-based services for older relatives.

"The federal government already has a solid framework in place for serving these families, and several states - such as Washington, Arizona and Pennsylvania - have taken steps to actively support extended family and friends as they assume their new caregiving roles," said Robert Geen, director of family services and systems policy at the Foundation. "Every state and community needs to adopt such changes, especially addressing the needs of lower-income kinship families."

Stepping Up for Kidsincludes the latest kinship care data for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. This information is available at 

Featured Resource

Annie E Casey Foundation

Helping Vulnerable Kids and Families Succeed


The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization, dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. It was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of UPS, and his siblings, who named the Foundation in honor of their mother.

The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs.


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