Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers. 4.2.3 Well-Being

06/01/2004

"Children would rather live with their parents and are dealing with questions like 'why am I not living with my parent' and 'where do [my parents' live."

Kinship Care Coordinator, Wisconsin

Children

Across all five states participating in the in-depth analysis, TANF eligibility workers and child welfare workers expressed concern for the well-being of children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers. Service providers and relative caregivers described the reasons that children entered care in nearly identical words, "drugs, mental illness and homelessness," offering numerous anecdotes of children experiencing maltreatment. A TANF eligibility worker in Louisiana stated that "nothing deals with the quality of life for these children." While grandparents offer some stability, many children are torn between the loyalty they feel toward their parent and their grandparents. A TANF eligibility worker in Oklahoma stated that "children sense the complicated relationships between caregiver and parent." Addressing the moderation of benefits, a TANF eligibility worker in Oklahoma noted that "the nurturing that would come from the mother will be missed, but can be matched by the nurturing from a relative."

Many informants noted the need for counseling to help children deal with the experience of separation from their birth parents. Child welfare workers in Washington State stated, "children need counseling. They are having problems in school and at home and the wait time for services is 3 or 4 months." Another Louisiana TANF worker stated, "separation from parents can be difficult for children to deal with. They need counseling and are not receiving any." The State TANF Director in Maryland noted that "these children need more than medical and cash assistance  they need extra therapy to know how to adapt."

The permanent nature of these cases was also discussed as having an impact on the well-being of the child. As the Kinship Care Coordinator in Wisconsin stated, "It becomes too easy to just leave the child placed with the relative, but that placement often does not offer the child any type of closure like adoption or reunification." While the parents involved with most of these cases do not express a desire for reunification, this remains an issue for the children in these child-only cases.

Finally, while the general feeling of most persons participating in the in-depth analysis was that the system is fortunate to have relatives willing to care for their kin, some concern was expressed regarding categorically accepting a relative as the best placement option. As the Division Manager for Social Services in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, stated, "For us to blindly trust that the relatives are handling this well is nave on our parts." Case workers across the five states noted that relative caregivers themselves may have a history with the child welfare agency. While this issue was discussed as a concern, a social worker in Wisconsin stated, "there seems to be the ability of the caregiver to do a better job of caring for a child on the second go round."

Caregivers

"[Grandparents] are being asked to take on the responsibility of raising children in a different era."
Child Welfare Worker, Washington

While children in child-only relative caregiver cases are dealing with the loss of a parent and previous traumatic experiences, caregivers often face substantial challenges as well. "Older people don't know how to deal with the social and behavioral problems that many of these children have," stated a Louisiana TANF eligibility worker. These problems are complicated by relative caregivers' social isolation. They have little contact with others raising young children, and childrearing demands may limit their contact with their own support network. Informants also pointed out that grandparent caregivers are often dealing with problems related to their own children's substance abuse or mental illness, in addition to raising their grandchildren.

Compounding the emotional issues of raising relative children with multiple mental and behavioral issues, many relative caregivers are also dealing with physical or functional limitations of aging. Some caregivers are suffering from disabilities keeping them from working or driving, while others are just challenged by the day-to-day care of an infant or a teenager. As one relative caregiver in Wisconsin stated, "you find yourself saying I can't do this anymore, I can't care for these children if it is going to disrupt my life."

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