SOUTHERN INDIANA — Child welfare representatives in Southern Indiana and at the state level say that part of the reason more children are in relatives' care is because of the sheer numbers of children entering the system.
“I think we just have an overall increase in the system due to substance abuse,” Shay Grahn, director of Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), said. “Grandparents step in, sometimes it's other family members.
Floyd County CASA gave a resounding "yes," that they’d seen more instances of grandparents raising their grandchildren in recent years.
“Not only grandparents, but great-grandparents are having to step up,” Dawn Bennett, development director, said.
There's also been a big push to keep kids with safe relatives that they know rather than in foster care, said James Wide, communications director for the Indiana Department of Child Services.
In 2012, there were 12,620 children in Indiana Department of Child Services custody. As of August 2017, that number had nearly doubled to 24,027.
Corresponding numbers show that in 2012, about 36 percent of children were placed with relatives and in 2017, that number is up to nearly 51 percent.
“We've seen an increase in relative placement,” Wide said. “And we've made a concerted effort in that."
Although the first goal with child welfare agencies across the country is to make reasonable efforts at reunification with the parents, when that can't happen — or night away — DCS wants to make sure children have the best opportunities.
Special case managers vet potential family members — to see if they are safe and qualified, if they live nearby, if they are close with the child.
“If they're involved, there's already trauma,” Wide said, about the the children in DCS care. “[We want to] minimize the trauma to the child by having them stay with someone they know, that they already have familiarity with.”
He said he's also seeing more instances of grandparents or other relatives adopting the children, as they bond with the children and see their own children struggling with addiction issues.
“[It's] because of the grandparents not wanting to see the children raised outside the family,” he said.
"[They say] 'That is my grandchild and I can provide the love and support.' And of course from our end, we'll support them.”
Part of this support means training — to help the children and the grandparents through the transition. “Grandparents need support too,” he said. “They’ve already done this road and it's new, this next generation. If you have a 60-year-old grandparent trying to raise a 10-year-old, it's a lot different than when the grandparent was raising their 10-year-old.
“And we're finding a lot of success not just in Indiana but across the country.”