“Mrs. Elizabeth Smith” is 83 years old, battling cancer and has raised her ­great-grandchildren ages 16, 13 and 8 all of their lives. Since infants, the girls have been raised by Ms. Smith and her daughter, their grandmother, who had legal custody until her death in 2014. The children’s biological mother has a long history of drug addiction and homelessness and has never been able to raise her own children. The whereabouts of two of the girls’ fathers are unknown and the third father is incarcerated in a state correctional institution. When her daughter passed away, Mrs. Smith continued to care for her great-grandchildren alone in the only home they have ever known. Fearful that her granddaughter may decide to remove the children and concerned that she did not have authority to make legal decisions, Ms. Smith filed for and obtained custody. She wanted to continue to provide them a home, security, a sense of permanency, and make health, educational and other vital decisions for them. This is one of many examples of kinship care—where children receive care from a relative or kin, usually a grandparent, great-grandparent or other elder.

SeniorLAW Center was one of the first legal services programs in the country to provide grandparents and other elders with legal help to step in to raise children when birth parents could not. Keeping children in loving homes of grandparents and kin versus traditional foster care eases the burden on the child welfare system, keeps families together and enables children to thrive. In 2016, 46 percent of children placed by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services were in kinship care homes. Many children are raised in kinship care informally.

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