LEXINGTON -- Did you know, nearly 2.7 million children across the U.S. are currently in the care of relatives? More and more family members are providing safe homes to children of parents struggling with substance misuse and mental health issues.

For some, it's a challenge with little help available.

"Raising your kin can be hard work," Sylvia, a caregiver who has custody of a seven-year-old relative, explained.

More family members are being put in a position like Sylvia -- becoming full-time parents again, often with fewer resources than they had the first time around.

"I wish people knew that taking in relatives is not always something we want to do. It's something we have to do. If not, they go into the system," she explained. "That means, we need some support and help with the kids in our care."

There are immense benefits of kinship arrangements -- a form of care that allows children to grow up in a family environment. Studies show these children have healthier behavioral and emotional outcomes. But emerging research also takes a closer look at the struggles relatives often face when caring for young family members.

Data suggests that kinship rates throughout the Commonwealth are among the highest in the country. In an effort to provide much-needed support for these families, the College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky has launched the Kentucky Kinship Resource Center (KKRC).

"The dynamics associated with kinship care are uniquely complex," Missy Segress, director of centers and labs in the CoSW, said. "While systems often spend time focused on foster care, kinship care can be forgotten."

KKRC provides a continuum of services to meet the unique needs of kinship providers across the state. Those services include comprehensive education and training programs; innovative peer support and mentoring initiatives; and broad-based advocacy.

"KKRC is particularly situated to meet the needs of the Commonwealth," Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, said. "This endeavor is the first of its kind in our state, and we are extremely excited to be able to serve this population in a new, innovative way."

Miller -- who spent time in foster and kinship care as a youth -- is passionate about providing useful information and valuable resources to caregivers. That's why, KKRC leads efforts to provide and promote evidence-based approaches. This is done through expansive research and evaluation in the field.

"Contrary to many perceptions, the needs of kinship providers -- and the youth in their care -- seldom mirror those of other out-of-home experiences," Miller explained. "KKRC will provide opportunities to examine and explicate best-practices for improving services and outcomes for kinship providers and youth in Kentucky."

Ultimately, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers value keeping their families together -- these families make up our communities. Miller believes we need caregivers, and they need a safety net.

The KKRC aims to be that net -- striving to ensure that all current and prospective kinship caregivers are connected with resources and services they need to ensure the well-being of the children -- and to care for themselves.

For more information on the Kentucky Kinship Resource Center, visit the CoSW website at https://socialwork.uky.edu/.

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