Nearly 101,000 Pennsylvania children are in the care of extended family members or close family friends, a figure that has more than doubled in the past decade, according to a new KIDS COUNT® report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that examines the growth of “kinship care.”
About 3,500 of those children are in foster care with kinship families and could benefit from a cost-saving proposal included in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget to provide stronger supports for foster youth.
The KIDS COUNT® report, Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, found family members and friends who take on parental responsibilities through kinship care often have limited incomes and struggle to meet the basic needs of children.
In Pennsylvania, the financial challenges facing some families using kinship care can be eased if the commonwealth fully implements the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which provides states with incentives to improve outcomes for foster youth and promote adoption and legal guardianship.
Under existing state rules, foster parents can receive financial support until a foster youth in their care turns 21, if the youth meets certain educational and/or treatment criteria. Yet similar financial assistance ends at age 18 for families who choose to adopt or act as legal guardians to foster youth.
This disparity can discourage kinship families from adoption or legal guardianship, because it amounts to a financial punishment for making an older foster child a permanent part of the family, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO Joan Benso explained.
“Some foster parents – including many providing kinship care - would love to adopt the children in their care, but they cannot afford it because of this financial disincentive,” Benso said. “Thankfully, Governor Corbett has a proposal to fix this problem, and it’s a plan that will save the state and counties money as well.”
As part of his proposed budget for fiscal 2012-13, Gov. Corbett has called on the commonwealth to extend adoption and guardianship subsidies to age 21, the same age limit that exists for foster care support. The governor’s proposal also would allow more youth between ages 18 and 21 to benefit from the support of a foster family in cases where adoption or legal guardianship might not be an option.
Currently, Pennsylvania only extends foster care to age 21 for youth under certain circumstances, such as when a foster youth is working toward a high school diploma, enrolled in post-secondary education or receiving medical treatment. The governor’s proposal would expand the criteria, allowing foster care to continue to age 21 for youth who are enrolled in job training or working at least 80 hours a month.
The KIDS COUNT® report 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:
“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 Kids includes the latest kinship care data for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. This information is available at www.aecf.org/kinship.