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Information on Children and the Law

Kids Count

FOR RELEASE:  May 23, 2012

Contact: Nancy Parello | 973-643-3876 |

NJ Leads Nation in Supporting Kinship Caregivers
New report shows a rise in children cared for by relatives

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More than one-third of children in New Jersey’s foster care system are living with relatives, outpacing the national average of 26 percent, according to a new KIDS COUNT® report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Research widely supports that when children cannot live with their parents because of abuse or neglect, the next best alternative is to live with stable relatives. New Jersey has made this a cornerstone of reforms of the child protection system, resulting in a greater number of children being placed with kin.

“New Jersey is ahead of the curve when it comes to providing supports to grandparents and other relatives who are caring for their relatives’ children,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “That’s good news for New Jersey and it is good news for children.”

The report, Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families, found an 18 percent increase in children living with relatives or close family friends because their parents can no longer care for them. An estimated 9 percent of children will live with extended family for at least three consecutive months at some point before age 17.

In New Jersey, an average of 3 percent of the state’s child population – or 58,000 children – lived with relatives from 2009-2011, according to the Casey report.  Of those, 2,518 were in the foster care system, representing 35 percent of children in foster care during that time period.

State data show the number of children in state-subsidized kinship legal guardianships has risen sharply in recent years. In 2003, just 114 children were in this type of permanent placement, compared to 2,420 in 2011, according to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families.

In 2005, New Jersey began allowing relatives to become licensed foster parents, giving them all the supports and services that foster parents receive. The state also relaxed non-safety related requirements for relative foster parents, such as not having to strictly adhere to square-footage minimums for bedrooms.

“We’re seeing the results of making kinship care placements a priority and supporting these relatives as approved foster parents by providing them with supports and services,” Zalkind said.

New Jersey also offers help to relatives caring for children who are not involved with the state Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). This is largely the result of a 2002 law, which Advocates for Children of New Jersey helped to usher through the state Legislature. The Kinship Legal Guardianship law shored up financial supports, helping these relatives pay for the necessities of the children in their care. The law also established a Kinship Navigator hotline that directs relatives to available services. According to the Casey report, relatives caring for kins’ children tend to have lower incomes and so need more assistance when they shoulder the burden of caring for these children.

“This was the first time that New Jersey acknowledged that kin were taking care of kids who might otherwise end up in the child protection system and that these relatives needed support to continue caring for the children,” Zalkind said. “That was a very positive step.”

While New Jersey is doing better than many states, there is still room for improvement.  New Jersey’s high housing costs often become an issue for grandparents and other relatives who may live in an age-restricted development and need to move when they take on the responsibility of raising children. Others may have housing that is adequate for them but becomes crowded when kids are added to the mix.

“It is critical that we continue to shore up supports for these relatives,” Zalkind said. “Without these caring kin, more children would likely enter our foster care system. This can lead to less stable living situations for children and higher costs for New Jersey.”

Stepping Up for Kids includes the latest kinship care data for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. To learn more, visit

Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a non-profit, non-partisan child research and action organization whose primary mission is to give every child the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization whose primary mission is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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