Informal and Formal Kinship Care. Section I. Children in Kin Care, 1983-1994: Evidence from the Current Population Survey


This analysis is based on data from the March Current Population Surveys (CPS) for the 12 years between 1983 and 1994. "Children in kin care" or "kin-care children" refers to never-married children who do not live with their parents, but live with other adult relatives. Whether these children are in formal foster care arrangements cannot be ascertained from the CPS data. "Children" refers to all individuals aged 17 or younger. "Caregivers" refers to both parents and the other relatives who take care of children. "Kin-caregivers" refers to the adult relatives, other than parents, who take care of children. We assume kin-care children are being cared for by the head of the family they are in and, if such a person exists, the head's spouse. We assume foster children are being cared for by the head of the household and, if such a person exists, the head's spouse. (For more detail on definitions, refer to Appendix I at the end of Volume II.)

In families headed by both a husband and a wife, "educational attainment" refers to the better educated caregiver. "Labor force status" refers to the caregiver most attached to the labor force, with "attachment" being greatest for those who were employed, followed by those who were unemployed, then those not in the labor force.

The original plan was to base analysis on four pooled 3-year groups--1983-85, 1986-88, 1989-91, and 1992-94--and to report the average annual values of indicators for each period. This 3-year averaging is necessary because the number of children in kin care in a single year's CPS sample is relatively small and therefore could provide unreliable estimates. However, the CPS data from 1993 and earlier were not comparable to the data collected in 1994. Between 1993 and 1994, the percentage of children in kin care jumped from 2.2 percent to 3.1 percent, an increase of 42.4 percent. Over the 12 years studied, the next largest percentage change in the prevalence of kin care was a 10 percent increase between 1986 and 1987, from 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent. It appears that the marked increase is due to changes in CPS methodology, rather than dramatic increases in the prevalence of kin care. In 1994, several new changes were instituted. The sampling frame used for the 1994 CPS was the first based on the 1990 census, there was a switch from paper questionnaires to computer-assisted interviewing, it became easier for interviewers to code unusual types of living arrangements, and data were processed somewhat differently.

The improved measurement of kin care produced a reporting quandary. The latest, and probably best, data were from the 1994 CPS, but including these data in trend estimates would create the false impression that the annual average number of children in kin care is skyrocketing. We arrived at a two-pronged compromise approach. In analyzing changes over time in the percentage and number of children in kin care, we limited analysis to years for which data on household and family relationships were collected and processed consistently, 1983-93. For analyzing the characteristicsof children in kin care and their families, we extended our analysis to include data from the 1994 CPS. In general, including the 1994 data did not change the results significantly; where there were changes, the addition of the 1994 data usually strengthened already observed trends.

Although our trend analysis stops in 1993, it appears that the changes introduced in the 1994 CPS improved the identification of children in kin care. Our current best estimate of the number of children in kin care is 2,150,000 in 1994, 3.1 percent of all children.

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