The Census Bureau estimates that almost four percent of the nation’s children under 18 live in a household headed by someone other than a parent. An overwhelming majority of these children live with a relative in what is referred to as “kinship care” arrangements in which caregiving is provided by relatives in the absence of a parent and is an alternative to foster care placement where children live in family‐based alternatives to parental care. Definitions vary by state, but the caregiver relative is usually an adult who is related to the child by blood, marriage or adoption. Generally, preference is given to the child’s grandparents, followed by aunts, uncles, adult siblings, and cousins.

It is estimated that as many as four percent (or around 2.6 million) children meet the definition of kinship care, i.e., they live in households headed by a non‐parent relative. Kinship care affects both sides of the foster care equation—it reduces the number of children entering the foster care system and provides placement for those already in the system. Funding for formal kinship care comes from a mix of federal, state, and local sources, including:

  • Federal Title IV‐E funds
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) child‐only grants
  • Kinship guardianship assistance
  • Kinship support service programs
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Social Security

It is estimated that as many as 45-78% of these children need behavioral health services. While children in kinship care arrangements are often eligible for services and programs, their uptake is low compared to other social programs. Only about 20% of relatives caring for children in informal arrangements reported receiving cash assistance. Reasons for this relatively low uptake rates are influenced by:

  • Awareness of eligibility for assistance
  • Reluctance to receive public assistance
  • Difficulty in providing the necessary documentation verifying their relationship with the child
  • Reluctance to provide required information about the child’s parents (often the caregiver’s son or daughter) to help the state collect child support

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