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Melissa A. Featherston

Child custody among grandparents, relatives, a positive option

Today's family composition in Missouri is much different than in past decades. Today, more and more children are living with relatives such as grandparents rather than their parents. Child custody is not as cut and dried as a court determining which parent the child lives with more or less than the other. Oftentimes, parenting grandparents have rights and benefits they don't even know about. They would do well to be in touch with an experienced attorney who could help them.

The reality is that instances of children in grandparent-led homes are on the rise. A 2010 census report indicates that some 5.8 million children live in homes in which a grandparent is the head of the household.. Another recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that nearly 2.7 million children are being raised solely by their grandparents, other relatives or especially close family friends.

Between 2000 and 2010, there was an 18 percent increase in the incidence of children in these categories for various reasons, including parents who were incarcerated, suspected of abuse or who had died. Extended family parenting is most often conducted by grandparents. This can cause significant challenges in the areas of finance and support as they may be elderly, unemployed or relying on small benefit payments.

Despite the challenges, child-welfare authorities say these arrangements are still better for the child than being reared in the foster care system. They say children who are placed with relatives may save U.S. taxpayers $6 billion per year in care costs associated with the foster care system. In spite of this, many states are not generous in supporting these families as they would traditional foster care families. Proponents of the kinship care idea believe that more should be done to provide support for these families as well.

Missouri families comprised of grandparents or other relatives raising children in the absence of their parents may benefit from investigating what options the state may have available for financial and emotional support.

Source: The Columbia Daily Tribune, "Report: More support needed for kinship caregivers," David Crary, Associated Press, May 25, 2012

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