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Fewer Tenn. kids live in married homes
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Fewer Tennessee children live in homes with married parents and more children are living with a single parent or with a grandparent compared to a decade ago, newly released census data shows.

The state-level data reflects broad, gradual changes to the structure of American families as divorces have increased, marriages are on the decline and couples are putting off marriage until later in life, experts say.

According to the data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this month, 58 percent of children lived in a married family household in Tennessee in 2010, which includes remarried parents and stepfamilies. That's down from 64 percent in 2000.

Laura Carpenter, associate professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, said the declining rate of children living in married households is not surprising.

"Nuclear families are not as typical as we think they are," said Carpenter. "They haven't been typical for a while particularly because of high rates of divorce."

Increasingly, children are living in single-parent households, which rose from 25 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2010 in Tennessee. Women make up the majority of single parents, but the number of single men raising children did increase from 64,000 families in 2000 to 90,000 in 2010.

Carpenter said getting married and having children are not necessarily mutually inclusive.

"All of this is reflective of broad trends of people waiting longer to get married than they used to," she said. "If women get pregnant, they aren't as likely to get married just because they got pregnant."

Single parenthood forces itself on some families.

Marilyn Cavagnaro, who lives in the Nashville area, has been raising her son Jackson by herself for eight years after her husband was sent to jail. She found out quickly that she couldn't do all the things they used to do with both parents at home.

"When Jackson's dad left, it was just me and I had to work," Cavagnaro said. "I didn't have the time to play and wrestle like he and his dad did when we were a two-parent household."

She reached out for help through the Amachi program, which provides adult mentors for children of incarcerated parents. It's run by the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization in Middle Tennessee.

Through the organization, her son has been able to see that other children also have a single parent in the home or an incarcerated parent, she said. The support she has gotten through her son's mentor has helped her be a better parent, she said.

"It is organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters where you find support, and not just for yourself, but your child," she said.

Relatives, such as an aunt or uncle or grandparent, are also caring for more children than in the past. About 9.4 percent of all Tennessee children lived with a grandparent in 2010, compared to 7.3 percent in 2000.

Carpenter said that could be a sign that children who are removed from their parents' custody are more likely to be placed with a relative, rather than in a foster home.

"A huge proportion of foster care children now go and live with a relative, which didn't quite used to be the case," she said.

Richard Davis of Nashville took custody of his son's daughter when she was 3 months old and he was 43 because the child's mother couldn't care for her. Now he's 60 and his 17-year-old granddaughter is considering what college to attend.

He found a support group for families like his, called the Relative Care Giver Program, at Family and Children's Services in Nashville.

"There I saw a lot of people that were just like me, who had planned to do other things in their old age, and ended up raising children and starting all over again," he said.

Jan Dick, director of child welfare at Family and Children's Services, said in an email that the program served 135 caregivers and 291 children last year, but their funding, which comes from the Department of Children's Services, could run out next year.

"Discontinuing the program would also likely place hundreds of children statewide at risk of entering state custody, at much greater cost, both fiscally and emotionally, to our taxpayers and our communities," she said.

Whatever the makeup of the household, families often find ways to adapt to provide children with the nurturing they need, whether it's through joint custody, family friends or relatives, Carpenter said.

"A lot of the research suggests that stability is the thing that matters" in a child's development, she said.