Informal and Formal Kinship Care. Characteristics of children in kinship care: How have they changed, and how do they compare with children in parent care?

06/20/1997

In the last section, we discussed how, within various groups, the percentage of children in kinship care changed between 1983-85 and 1992-94--for example, how the percentage of African American children in kinship care has changed. In this section, we discuss a related topic, how the characteristicsof children in kinship care have changed--for instance, how the percentage of kinship care children who are African American has changed.(1)

We compare changes in the characteristics of kin-care children with changes in the characteristics of parent-care children, focusing on changes that affected kin-care children more than parent-care children. We discuss three sets of characteristics: characteristics of the children (see Table 1.3); characteristics of the caretakers (see Table 1.4); poverty and use of services by the caretaking family (see Table 1.5).

Characteristics of children

Race and ethnicity. In the U.S. population overall, the percentage of children who are non-Hispanic whites is decreasing. This decline has been more dramatic for kin-care children than parent-care children (see Figures 1.1 and 1.2). In 1983-85, white non-Hispanic children made up the largest share of kin-care children, 46.6 percent, but this share had dropped to 36.2 percent by 1992-94. Over this period, non-Hispanic African Americans went from being the second-largest to the largest group in kinship care, from 38.1 percent to 44.3 percent. The share of kin-care children who were Hispanic white also increased, from 10.5 percent to 14.0 percent. Among children in parent care, white non-Hispanics continue to dominate, making up 73.1 percent in 1983-85 and 68.7 percent in 1992-94. The percentage of children in parent care who are African American has remained stable, while the percentage of children who are Hispanic whites has increased.

Age. In all four periods, children in kinship care were, on average, older than children in parent care (see Figures 1.3 and 1.4). For instance, 16.7 percent of children in kinship care in 1983-85 were aged 0-4 and 27.1 percent were aged 15-17 while, among children in parent care, 29.0 percent were aged 0-4 and 17.0 percent were aged 15-17. By 1992-94, however, the differences in age distribution had lessened slightly. Between 1983-85 and 1992-94, for both kin-care children and parent-care children, the percentage of children under 10 increased and the percentage of children aged 10 and older decreased, but this increase was greater for children in kinship care--especially among children aged 0-4. By 1992-94, 21.7 percent of children in kinship care were aged 0-4 and 23.5 percent were aged 15-17 while 29.8 percent of children in the care of their parents were aged 0-4 and 14.7 percent were aged 15-17.

Sex. There are slightly more boys than girls in all four periods for parent care and for all periods except 1992-94 for kin care.

Geography. In all four periods, the largest share of kin-care children lived in the South (48.6 percent in 1983-85 and 46.8 percent in 1992-94), with the remainder roughly evenly divided among the other three regions (see Figure 1.5). The largest share of parent-care children also live in the South, although the share is substantially smaller (33.7 percent in 1983-85 and 33.8 percent in 1992-94).

The proportion of both kin-care and parent-care children living in metropolitan areas increased between 1983-85 and 1992-94 (see Figure 1.6). For kin-care children, the percentage in metropolitan areas increased from 59.1 percent to 74.5 percent and for parent-care children, the percentage rose from 63.7 percent to 77.4 percent.

Caregiver characteristics

In 1989-91 and 1992-94, the only two periods for which we could ascertain the relationship between kin-care children and their caregivers, two-thirds of kin-care children were being cared for by one or both grandparents, usually a grandmother.(2)

As we discuss in this section, the caretakers of kin-care children are older and more likely to be single women--especially widows-- than the parents caring for their own children.

Children in kinship care are substantially less likely to be taken care of by both an adult man and an adult woman than children in parent care (see Figure 1.7). Although the proportion of children living in families headed by two adults has declined for parent-care children, the decline has been even sharper for kin-care children. Between 1983-85 and 1992-94, the percentage of parent-care children living in a family headed by a married couple declined from 76.5 percent to 72.4 percent; over the same period, the percentage of kin-care children in this type of family declined from 56.3 percent to 50.3 percent.

For children in parent care, there has been an increase in families headed by both single women and single men. There has been an increase in the percentage of kin-care children being cared for by single women--from 38.7 percent in 1983-85 to 43.8 percent in 1992-94--but little increase in the percentage being cared for by single men--from 5.0 percent in 1983-85 to 5.9 percent in 1992-94. Among kin-care children being cared for by a single woman, the largest group is those being cared for by widows (16.9 percent in 1983-85 and 15.2 percent in 1992-94). However, the percentage being cared for by divorced and never-married women is increasing, from 8.5 percent and 4.9 percent (respectively) in 1983-85 to 11.3 percent and 7.8 percent in 1992-94.

One of the most striking differences between children being cared for by their parents and children being cared for by other relatives is the age of their caregivers (see Figure 1.8). Among children who live with their mothers, in all four periods more than 95 percent have mothers under age 50. However, less than half of kin-care children with a female caregiver have a caregiver under age 50. In 1983-85, about half of these children had female caregivers under 50, about a quarter had female caregivers in their fifties, slightly less than 20 percent had female caregivers in their sixties, and more than 5 percent had caregivers aged 70 or older. As we have noted, since 1983-85, the average age of children in kin care has declined, but the opposite is true for their female caregivers. Since between 1983-85 and 1992-94, the percentage of kin-care children with female caregivers whose female caregiver is aged 50 or older increased from 50.5 percent to 56.6 percent. Similar patterns can be observed for fathers and male kin-caregivers.

Parents are better educated than kin-caregivers (see Figure 1.9). For instance, in 1983-85, kin caregivers were substantially more likely than parents to have dropped out of high school (47.9 percent versus 17.0 percent) and were substantially less likely than parents to have graduated from college (8.1 percent versus 23.7 percent). By 1992-94, the educational attainment of both groups of caregivers had increased, although the pattern of improvement differed. For parents, there were declines in the percentage of high school dropouts (from 17.0 percent to 14.2 percent) and high school graduates (from 36.0 percent to 30.8 percent), and increases in the percentage of those with some college (from 23.3 percent to 28.2 percent) and with college diplomas (from 23.7 percent to 26.8 percent). In contrast, among kin-caregivers, there were declines in the percentage of high school dropouts (from 47.9 percent to 42.6 percent) and increases in the number of high school graduates (from 29.9 percent to 32.7 percent), but little change in the number who had some college (from 14.0 percent 16.7 percent) or had college diplomas (no change at 8.1 percent).

Parents are more likely to be in the labor force than kin-caregivers (see Figure 1.10 and Table 1). In 1992-94, 83.0 percent of children in parent care had at least one parent who was employed compared with only 57.5 percent of children in kinship care. Children in kinship care are about three times more likely than children in parent care to live with a caregiver who is not in the labor force, 39.1 percent versus 12.4 percent. We only have information about the activities of caregivers who are not in the labor force for one period, 1983-85. Among those with a caretaker not in the labor force, children in parent care are more likely to have a parent who is either housekeeping or attending school; children in kinship care are more likely to have a caregiver who is either unable to work or "other/retired." These differences appear to reflect the older average age of kin-caregivers. The labor force status of both kin-caregivers and parents changed little over the four periods examined.

Poverty status and use of services

Kin-care children are more likely to be poor than parent-care children (see Figure 1.11). Far more children in kinship care are in families whose income is below the poverty line, 38.8 percent versus 21.4 percent in 1992-94. Far fewer children in kinship care than in parent care are in families whose income puts them above 150 percent of the poverty line, 44.1 percent versus 67.6 percent. Over the four periods studied, there has been little change in poverty status for kin-care and parent-care children.

In all four periods, children in kinship care are substantially more likely to be in families with no earned income than children who live with their parents (see Table 1.5). Furthermore, the percentage of kin-care children in families with no earned income has increased, while there was little change in the percentage of parent-care children in families with no earned income. From 1983-85 to 1992-94, the percentage of kin-care children in families with no earned income rose from 23.8 to 26.3, while the percentage of parent-care children in families with no earned income went from only 8.9 percent to 9.2 percent.

Children in kinship care are substantially more likely than children in parent care to be in families receiving government assistance (see Figure 1.12). In 1992-94, kin-care children were more than twice as likely as children living with their families to be in families receiving "public assistance or welfare" (27.0 percent versus 13.3 percent), were almost five times as likely to be in a family in which someone collects supplemental security income--SSI, a welfare program for the elderly and disabled poor (14.5 percent versus 3.0 percent), were twice as likely to be in a family in which the children receive free lunches at school (49.8 percent versus 25.4 percent), and are nearly twice as likely to be in public housing (6.7 percent versus 4.0 percent) or in a household receiving food stamps (31.2 percent versus 18.9 percent). In addition, kin-care children are more than five times more likely to be in a family in which someone receives social security (34.6 percent versus 6.4 percent) and two-and-a-half times more likely to be in a family in which someone receives disability insurance payments (3.6 percent versus 1.4 percent).(3)

The largest differences in program participation are in those programs aimed primarily at the elderly--SSI and social security--which is no doubt the result of the large portion of elderly caretakers.

For kin-care children, family participation in three government programs increased noticeably between 1983-85 and 1992-94: public assistance/welfare (from 21.1 percent to 27.0 percent), children receiving free lunches (42.0 percent to 49.8 percent), and SSI (10.1 percent to 14.5 percent). For parent-care children, family participation in these three programs also increased, although not as dramatically. This increase in use of government services is somewhat unexpected because, between 1983-85 and 1992-94, for kin-care children, there was little change in either the percentage in poverty (from 39.2 percent to 38.8 percent) or the percentage "near poor" (from 15.1 percent to 17.1 percent)--that is, at or above poverty but no more than 150 percent of the poverty line.

View full report

Preview
Download

"6016.pdf" (pdf, 3.49Mb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®