Five Ways to Help Kin Caregivers Now

Posted January 3, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Mom and toddler play on the floor

Nation­al­ly, few­er kids in fos­ter care are liv­ing in group facil­i­ties — and more are liv­ing with rel­a­tives — when remain­ing at home isn’t an option. This is good news, espe­cial­ly for chil­dren and teens, since research indi­cates that liv­ing with rel­a­tives can decrease trau­ma, nur­ture vital rela­tion­ships, and sup­port con­nec­tions to fam­i­ly, cul­ture and community.

But being a kin care­giv­er isn’t easy. Kin care­givers often come to their impor­tant roles in the midst of a cri­sis, such as the death of a par­ent or the pres­ence of sub­stance use or men­tal health issues that impede safe parenting.

Anoth­er chal­lenge: Kin care­givers don’t always receive the same lev­el of sup­port, finan­cial or oth­er­wise, that fos­ter par­ents receive. This can result in kids miss­ing out on key resources — from school sup­plies to men­tal health ser­vices — that they need to thrive.

There is a lot of room for improve­ment in sup­port­ing kin care­givers,” says Tracey Feild, direc­tor of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. For­tu­nate­ly, help is on the way. Across the coun­try, child wel­fare agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ties are rethink­ing how to help kin do what they do so well, which is to pro­vide care and con­ti­nu­ity for kids.”

Feild’s rec­om­men­da­tions for help­ing kin care­givers include:

Offer­ing direct help

  • Start by learn­ing about kin care­giv­ing, includ­ing how for­mal kin­ship care through a child wel­fare agency dif­fers from infor­mal kin­ship care. Rules vary by state.
  • Include kin­ship fam­i­lies in your cir­cle of friends.
  • Offer kin care­givers help with gro­cery or school shop­ping or oth­er assis­tance that care­givers need, such as trans­porta­tion to appointments.
  • Pro­vide a non­judg­men­tal ear and show your appre­ci­a­tion for the care­givers and the chil­dren in their home.

Cre­at­ing a space for kin care­givers to connect

Kin care­givers report that it helps to talk with — and learn from — oth­er fam­i­lies who are fac­ing sim­i­lar situations.

  • Get care­givers talk­ing by screen­ing the Casey Foundation’s video series, Cop­ing With the Unique Chal­lenges of Kin­ship Care. This free four-mod­ule series, com­plete with a com­pan­ion dis­cus­sion guide, iden­ti­fies effec­tive cop­ing strate­gies for kin care­givers and shares crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion on how kin­ship care can change fam­i­ly dynamics.
  • Con­sid­er spon­sor­ing a train­ing ses­sion that explores how trau­ma and attach­ment affect chil­dren and teens. Two options that Casey offers, free of charge, are ARC Reflec­tions and Trau­ma Sys­tems Ther­a­py for Fos­ter Care.

Build­ing a kin­ship nav­i­ga­tor program

Com­mu­ni­ties are increas­ing­ly employ­ing kin­ship nav­i­ga­tor pro­grams to con­nect grand­par­ents and oth­er care­givers with need­ed sup­ports. Beyond pro­mot­ing exist­ing ser­vices, these pro­grams can iden­ti­fy miss­ing ser­vices and spur col­lab­o­ra­tion between pub­lic and pri­vate agen­cies to resolve ser­vice gaps.

Oper­at­ing as a kin-first child wel­fare agency

Kin should be the first place­ment choice when a child must enter the child wel­fare sys­tem (review how place­ment require­ments vary by state).

  • Review the sev­en steps to take to ensure that your pub­lic agency is a kin-first agency.
  • Talk about the unique needs of kin care­givers. Ask your agency to include Casey’s case­work­er train­ing in its pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment offer­ings. The five-mod­ule video train­ing, Engag­ing Kin­ship Care­givers: Man­ag­ing Risk Fac­tors, dis­cuss­es what makes kin care­giv­ing dif­fer­ent than being a fos­ter par­ent. The series also includes a dis­cus­sion guide to help lead group ses­sions that will deep­en the learn­ing experience.

Lever­ag­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able via the Fam­i­ly First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act

Fam­i­ly First is poised to make sig­nif­i­cant changes in how com­mu­ni­ties sup­port kids and families.

All of us have a stake in kin­ship care,” Feild says. Fam­i­lies, schools and work­places ben­e­fit when chil­dren and fam­i­lies thrive.

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