In response to the article, “Report: Number of SC children in state custody increased by 1,500 since 2012”:
The story noted, “In most circumstances, advocates agree that children are better served when they are placed in foster homes or with relatives.” This last part is significant and deserves attention.
The number of children living with relatives far eclipses the number of children in state custody. Compared to 4,600 in state custody, there are about 74,000 child victims of abuse and neglect living in kinship care, i.e., in the full-time care of relatives or family friends. The numbers are growing. The opioid epidemic has resulted in more children in need of out-of-home placement, and child welfare agencies are depending on relatives to step up to relieve an already overburdened foster care system.
What happens to most children involved with the Department of Social Services is that they are placed with relatives before being taken into state custody. This is called diversion because children are diverted from the foster care system.
The caregivers are not able to become licensed foster parents and receive no support from the state, despite the children having experienced the same sort of abuse, neglect and trauma as a child placed into foster care. Grandparents and other kinship caregivers are ill-equipped to handle the emotional and financial challenges of caring for these vulnerable children, but are left to find services and resources by themselves.
Over half of kinship families fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Kinship caregivers are more likely to be disproportionately African American, poor, single, older, in poor health and less educated. Without the oversight and assistance foster families receive, kinship caregivers are unaware of government and community resources that could help. The majority of kinship caregivers don’t receive the assistance they need to maintain a financially stable household. Despite this, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and even family friends continue to take in children so they won’t end up in foster care.
Despite these challenges, studies indicate that children in kinship care fare better than those in foster care. They tend to be safer than children placed with non-relatives. Siblings are less likely to be separated. They’re less likely to change schools, and relatives are more willing to become permanent guardians. In fact, they have half the risk of behavioral and social problems of children in foster care.
HALOS provides support, services and assistance in navigating systems to ensure children in kinship care have what they need to thrive.
In 2017, HALOS saw a 29 percent increase in the number of families served by the kinship care program compared to the prior year. HALOS serves about 10 percent of local kinship families and is the only organization focused on the unique needs of kinship families.
It is time for South Carolina and our community to recognize these unique families and provide them the support and services that ensure children in kinship care have every opportunity to live in safe, permanent homes that help them become healthy, productive adults.
Director of Philanthropy