OGDEN -- Family members and friends who take on unexpected parental responsibilities as kinship families can have their income struggles alleviated with increased access to, and an awareness of, government and community programs.
That is the message presented by Utah Kids Count, a state organization that promotes the care of disadvantaged children.
The number of Utah children in kinship families has remained rather steady over the years, Utah Kids Count Director Terry Haven said.
About 15,000 children in Utah, or roughly 2 percent, are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, according to a recent national study. Nationally, the figure is 2.7 million children.
But of those 15,000 Utah kids in the care of kinship families, Haven said, about 60 percent of the care providers may not be getting all the benefits they deserve.
She said Utah, however, is definitely not at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to providing help for these families.
"Some states do better then we are, some states do worse," Haven said.
The national Kids Count report, released May 23 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore, Md., a private charitable organization established in 1948, is dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children by aligning public systems, private agencies and faith-based organizations that can help meet the needs of those trying to fill a parenting role.
Kinship care, as it is called, has become more prevalent in the last decade, Haven said. She said children are removed from homes because their parents cannot care for them.
The report states that over the past decade, the number of children in kinship care, nationally, grew six times faster than the number of children in the general population -- an 18 percent increase.
In response to that rise, the report recommends agencies network to ensure that kinship families have access to the benefits they are eligible for, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the National School Lunch program.
The foundation's 16-page report, "Stepping Up For Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families," provides a breakdown of the number of children across the country being raised by grandparents or other relatives, and explains how groups should network to provide financial stability for those families taking on that unexpected responsibility.
Layton grandmother JoAnn Schanzle said, based on the assistance she receives as care provider for her granddaughters, a 10-month-old and 22-month-old, Utah seems ahead of the curve in ensuring kinship families receive the help they need.
Because she still works, medical cards and daycare are being provided for her granddaughters, Schanzle said. She is also receiving assistance from WIC and financial assistance to cover the cost of diapers and clothes for the kids, she said.
"It's already in place," Schanzle said of the organized assistance.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own. I actually didn't expect anything. They are my daughter's children," she said. "But I'm glad to have the assistance."
There are grandparents serving as primary care providers, however, who do not want government involvement, Schanzle said.
Some measures recommended in the national report include designing TANF-funded programs to meet the unique needs of kinship families, and aligning public agency and court practices with the philosophy of placing children with kin.
Research confirms, in most cases, kinship care is the best option when children cannot live with their own parents. Children in kinship care are better able to adjust to their new environment and less likely to experience behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders, the report states.
The national report comes on the heels of the annual Utah Kids Count study released earlier this month. That study provides comprehensive local data on child well-being indicators, such as demographics, health, education and economic security.
"A lot of (Utah's) health indicators are improving, but we still have some major areas of concern," Haven said in an earlier article. "The biggest among those is childhood poverty."
According to the study, almost 50,000 more Utah children lived in poverty in 2010 than did in 2007.