Stepping Up For Kids

May 23, 2012

A new report out today says one in every eleven children will spend a portion of their lives without their parents, living instead with a relative.  That number is growing both in the U-S and in Idaho.  These kids often don’t get all the services that are available to them.  The study hopes to change that.

Debi Venneman takes care of her grandchildren Rowen, age two, and Rayden, age eleven.  That’s because her daughter started using meth and is no longer in her son’s lives.  “After she graduated from high school, she was just making lots of really poor decision, and had some not so good boyfriends.”

The Department of Health and Welfare stepped in and put one child, and later the second into foster care.  Now both boys live with Venneman and her husband in their home in Boise.  She cuddles Rowen protectively in her lap.  “Do you want me to go lay you down?  No.  No, you’re gonna lay right here?  O.k.  He’s not just somebody else’s child, he’s our child.”

Venneman’s household is what’s known as a kinship family.   “Kinship families are when relatives and close friends step forward to raise children whose parents can no longer care for them,” says Lauren Necochea, Director of Idaho Kids Count.  It’s a non-profit program that disseminates data and research on child well-being.  A new report by Kids Count and the Annie E. Casey Foundation says the number of kinship families, is growing at a rate six times faster than the number of children in the general population. “There are 2.7 million children across the country living in kinship families.  We currently have over 7,000 Idaho children living with relatives other than their parents.”

The “Stepping Up For Kids Report” says there are many reasons why parents drop out of a child’s life.  Drug addiction, domestic violence, prison, even a military deployment can mean a parent is absent for a time.  Necochea says the relatives who step in are often at a disadvantage.   “Kinship care givers are more likely to be single, older, less-educated, unemployed and poor, many are grandparents, so for these caregivers of raising a child are severe.”

The report says most kinship families are not accessing the resources available to them.  But Debi Venneman is bucking the trend.  As a foster parent, she gets some state money for the children.  Both boys are on Medicaid.  And Rowan, the youngest, gets food from the Women, Infants, and Children program.  Necochea says many kinship caregivers don’t know they’re even eligible for these services. “When you think about the costs involved in taking on a children, it’s about $990 per month, well kinship families in the foster system receive an average of $511 a month, so that really falls short.”

Necochea says communities are endebted to kinship care families like the Venneman’s and owe them support. For Debi Venneman, taking care of two grandchildren is both challenging and rewarding.  She says she’s able to do it with the help of her husband, her church, and her extended family. “Truthfully, I don’t know that we could do this if we were not involved with the Lord and with having the support of really strong people behind us.”

Venneman and her husband hope to formally adopt their grandchildren this July. 


Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio