A new study released by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) shed new light on the thousands of children who are living in “kinship” arrangements, because their parents cannot care for them. According to the study, approximately 253,000 Texas kids live with family or close friends who care for them, most commonly grandparents. The majority of these cases are informal arrangements between families who have stepped in to provide care for children, without anything official from the state.
As the study pointed out, “informal kinship caregivers save Texas taxpayers millions of dollars every year in foster care costs as they care for children who would otherwise fall into the custody of the state. And more importantly, caregivers offer love and stability to many of the state’s most vulnerable children.”
However, because kinship arrangements are most often informal, very few children who live in these arrangements are able to access the state and federal support services for which they are eligible. And, as CPPP noted, “where support is available, Texas provides some of the lowest levels of financial assistance in the country.”
Of the quarter-million children who are living in kinship arrangements, only 11,000 were receiving monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments, despite nearly all being eligible. And only 130,731 out of 253,000 were receiving children’s Medicaid benefits, although nearly all were eligible.
The CPPP report identified several barriers that are preventing these families from receiving the support that they need from the state. These include barriers relating to knowledge, as well as structural problems with the state’s resources for children being raised in kinship arrangements:
- Barrier #1: Accessing information related to kinship care and support services
Barrier #2: TANF cash assistance payments are insufficient
Barrier #3: Legal documentation requirements
Barrier #4: Confusing application and eligibility requirements
Barrier #5: Stigma associated with government assistance programs
Applying for assistance from the state is a confusing process, and many kinship care providers are not aware of what they are eligible for. Applying for each benefit requires slightly different documentation from the care provider, further complicating the process. And when they do receive resources, they are usually not enough to adequately care for a child. For example, TANF payments for kinship caregivers in Texas are only $93 per month compared to at least $693 per month for foster care parents.
CPPP offered several solutions to help kinship caregivers have better access to resources. Chief among these is creating a kinship navigator system so that caregivers have a centralized place to go for questions about how to access state resources for their kids. Other suggestions include improving digital resources, and streamlining the process for applying for support from the state.
In a statement, Rachel Cooper, the report’s lead author and a senior policy analyst at CPPP, said:
“Kinship caregivers are raising some of Texas’ most vulnerable children in challenging circumstances, and their service saves the state millions of dollars each year. Texas has the opportunity to ease the financial burden of becoming a caregiver by providing the support families need to offer stable, loving homes for children in need.”
As the legislative session gears up, let’s hope that lawmakers step up and make a difference for the hundreds of thousands of families trying to help their children get by in Texas.