253,000 Texas kids live with family or close friends who have stepped in to care for them when their parents aren’t able. These arrangements, known as “kinship care,” provide stability and familiarity for children at vulnerable times, but often create financial hardship for the caregivers. A number of resources are available, but current systems make it difficult for families to find the support they need.
More than 90 percent of the children living with family or friends in Texas are in informal or voluntary kinship placements, meaning the state hasn’t been involved in the arrangements. When Child Protective Services becomes involved in placing children whose parents are unable to care for them, caregivers have access to some financial support ranging from $400-$693 per month, as well as case management and other support services. Informal kinship families are not eligible for the same support as children involved with the state, and a number of barriers make it tough for them to access the public benefits they are eligible for.
The lack of outreach to kinship families and the barriers to information mean that only a small percentage of the 253,000 children in informal arrangements receive the benefits they are entitled to. For example, only 11,000 of the children in informal or voluntary kinship families in 2013 received monthly Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) payments, while almost all of them were eligible.
Angie Grindon, who heads the Relatives as Parents Program of Volunteers of America, knows all too well the struggles families have with TANF: “Most kinship families are eligible for a small monthly payment from TANF, but due to some problems with the current online application, they are often incorrectly denied. Furthermore, the online application process is a bad fit for many as they do not have a computer nor know how to use one.” Texas has one of the lowest rates of child-only TANF payments in the nation, which barely makes a dent in the expenses of kinship households. At $93 per month, TANF offers only a small fraction of the help formal kinship caregivers receive, while the families incur substantially the same costs.
One way to help kinship caregivers provide more effectively for the children in their care would be for Texas to develop a Kinship Navigator program. This program would conduct statewide outreach and provide referrals for families throughout the state so they know which programs and resources exist. Families could more easily identify which programs they are eligible for, which legal documents they need to apply for benefits, and could find the right state agencies and community partners where they can apply.
Kinship caregivers are raising some of Texas’ most vulnerable children in challenging circumstances, and their service saves the state millions of dollars each year. Read our new report to understand how Texas can ease the financial burden of becoming a caregiver and help provide the support these families need to offer stable, loving homes for children in need.