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.