LAYTON — More than 83,000 children statewide are living with either a grandparent or a relative who is not their parent, officials said.
Around 53,000 are being raised by their grandparents because their parents are deemed unable because of drug addiction, serving time in a jail or prison or dealing with a mental illness, said Jacci Graham, support services program director with the Children’s Service Society, a nonprofit organization.
The organization is offering its “Grandfamilies Kinship Care” support services in Davis County, Graham announced Thursday at a breakfast at the Davis Conference Center.
When Children’s Service Society implemented the program in 2002 in Salt Lake City, there were 42,000 children living with family members other than their parents.
But when the new numbers came out, Graham said, “I was absolutely shocked.”
The private organization has offered support services to families, but they had to go to Salt Lake City to receive them, Graham said.
If all the children who live with their grandparents, uncles or aunts were placed in foster care, “it would bankrupt our state,” Graham said.
It costs the state about $40,000 a year for each child in foster care, she said. It costs the state $1,700 per child in “kinship care.”
There are 2,700 children in foster care across the state, said Brenda Durtschi, Northern Area representative for the Utah Foster Care Foundation.
Durtschi was among the 80 attendees at Thursday’s event.
Also, children who are in foster care are at risk of not graduating from high school, not going on to higher education and are at a higher risk for committing crimes, Graham said.
Even though it is better for a child to be placed with family, raising grandchildren or nieces and nephews comes with challenges, including dealing with children who have been abused or neglected, resentment from other family members, changes in a couple’s social life and dealing with the children’s parents.
“The road should always lead to what is best for the children,” Graham said.
The organization, which receives funding from private donations and government grants, does not have a permanent office in Davis County, but does have access to an office at a senior center, Graham said. Those wishing services need to call 801-326-4409 and make an appointment.
Justice Christine Durham received an award from the society for her work with children.
Durham helped the state simplify the form family members need to complete so they can get guardianship of children.
She learned it was not easy to raise a relative’s child.
She talked about how she and her husband agreed to have a nephew move in with their family. At the time they had four children of their own.
“We thought, what was one more kid?” Durham said. “We were well-educated, affluent, but we had no clue what we got ourselves into. We could have benefited from this program.”