As the rolls of orphaned and neglected children swell, states increasingly are turning for help to grandparents and other family members, who now are caring for some 2.5 million abandoned children. Relatives provide homes for the vast majority of kids whose parents can no longer care for them, saving taxpayers an estimated $6.5 billion a year in child welfare costs, according to child and elder advocacy group Generations United. Officials say that without kin to provide care, the soaring number of children left behind by parents suffering from drug addictions, domestic violence, incarcerations, AIDS and military duty would choke already-clogged child welfare systems. Including households in which at least one parent is present, nationwide, at least 4.5 million kids are living in households headed by grandparents; 1.5 million more are living with other relatives. Of those, 2.5 million kids are living without either parent present, according to 2004 U.S. Census data. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.