|Relatives Raising Children:
An Overview of Kinship Care
Joseph Crumbley and Robert L. Little, eds. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America Press, 1997.
The thought of family evokes images of a safe haven filled with love and compassion. The responsibilities inherent in the idea of family inspire parents to sacrifice for the sake of their children. This commitment to caring is not limited to the child's parents, as Dana Burdnell Wilson of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) reminds us: "The concept of family brings with it a sense of belonging, caring, and duty toward family members -- a sense that propels individuals to step forward and take responsibility for raising a child when the child's parents are unable to do so."
Full-time parenting of children by other family members is the focus of Relatives Raising Children: An Overview of Kinship Care. The advantages are evident. By enabling children to live with family members, kinship care reduces the trauma children experience when placed with strangers. It enhances children's sense of identity and self-esteem, continues the connections children have to their siblings, and strengthens the family's ability to give children the support they need.
Kinship care has been practiced for centuries. What is new, the authors note, is the growing number of relatives becoming permanent or long-term primary caregivers. Researchers attribute this growth to such factors as increases in divorce, marital separation, alcohol and other drug abuse, and AIDS-related parental incapacity or mortality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.3 million children lived with relatives other than -- or in addition to -- their parents in 1992. While most of these children lived with their mothers in the homes of relatives, 878,000 lived with their grandparents -- apart from both parents.
As CWLA warned in its 1994 publication Kinship Care: A Natural Bridge, the rapid growth in kinship care has caught child welfare agencies off guard. Fortunately, its newest compendium, Relatives Raising Children: An Overview of Kinship Care, offers the information that family service professionals and communities need to develop and provide services to kinship caregivers
and the children for whom they care.
The authors do not neglect the challenges presented by kinship care. Since most kinship caregivers are grandmothers, issues of morbidity and mortality must be considered. Respite and other relief systems need to be developed. Clinical concepts affecting the child, care-givers, and
parents are analyzed from several vantage points, including systems theory, attachment theory, and diverse models of human development. Assessments and interventions are recommended and tips for effective case management are provided. Kinship care crosses cultural, racial, and socioeconomic lines, and the book addresses the role of cultural traditions and the impact of special conditions such as parental incarceration.
As State legislatures have only recently begun to recognize the dramatic increase in kinship care, the review of legal options available to kinship caregivers that the book provides is particularly relevant. "There appears to be no consistent public policy rationale for the use and valuation of kinship care," the authors conclude. In Relatives Raising Children: An Overview of Kinship Care, they have documented the need and provided a good starting point for its creation.