Perhaps you’re a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or godparent to a child. Now imagine getting a call in the middle of the night that something horrible happened – and either you come and pick up the child, or they will be placed in foster care.
For thousands of South Carolinians, this is a reality. These individuals are known as kinship caregivers. They sacrifice everything and act selflessly in order to ensure that the child or children they know and love are cared for and kept within their community and maintain their culture and traditions.
The number of children living with relatives far eclipses the number of children in state custody. Compared to approximately 4,600 in state custody, there are about 74,000 children in South Carolina living in kinship care. The numbers are growing. The opioid epidemic has resulted in more children in need of out-of-home placement, and child welfare agencies are depending on relatives to step up to relieve an already overburdened foster care system.
While foster parents receive important training and access to support for the children within their care, kinship caregivers are often left on their own despite the important work they do. With September being Kinship Care month, we at HALOS are working to advocate and raise awareness for kinship families in our local community.
Over half of kinship families fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Kinship caregivers are more likely to be disproportionately single, older, in poor health and less educated. Without the oversight and assistance foster families receive, kinship caregivers are unaware of government and community resources that could help. Kinship caregivers don’t receive the assistance they need to financially support the added expenses of raising children. Despite this, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and even family friends continue to take in children so they won’t end up in foster care with strangers.
Despite challenges, studies indicate that children in kinship care fare better than those in foster care. They tend to be safer than children placed with non-relatives. Siblings are less likely to be separated. They’re less likely to change schools, and relatives are more willing to become permanent guardians. In fact, they have half the risk of behavioral and social problems of children in foster care.
HALOS is South Carolina’s first and only nonprofit offering comprehensive services focused on ensuring kinship families have the resources and support necessary to thrive. With the challenges of kinship care, coupled with a global pandemic that has altered the local economy, the way children are learning, and the needs of kinship families, HALOS is asking you to walk alongside these families. This month, join us in celebrating families that are often parenting for the second time around and sacrificing so much to keep their loved ones close.
Kim Clifton is the executive director of HALOS. To learn more, visit charlestonhalos.org.