September is National Kinship Care Month.
"National Kinship Care Month provides an opportunity to urge people in every State to join in recognizing and celebrating kinship care giving families and the tradition of families in the United States to help raise children…”
What is Kinship Care?
Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends (often referred to as fictive kin). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children's connections with their families.
If you care about family preservation, then kinship care should be high on your list of causes to support. Most kinship care happens outside of the child welfare system, which leaves families without support and education. It is of the utmost importance to create new supports for these at-risk families, as the numbers of kinship families are growing (approximately 4% of families are kinship). Studies have shown that licensed and educated kinship families are safer and more stable than licensed, traditional foster parents. However the reverse is also true: unlicensed and uneducated kinship families are less safe and stable. Education is key.
Keeping a child in his/her own family is some of the most important work that family members do, mainly under the radar, with little support. Today, I wanted to discuss some of the challenges of being a kinship caregiver and stress the importance of reaching out for support. I have recently been planning a new support group for kinship families in my local area that I hope to get off the ground in the next month or so. I will update you as that information becomes available.
One of the biggest differences between kinship caregivers and other non-relative caregivers, is that most of the time, kinship caregivers do not have much time to plan ahead when a child comes into their care. That is because a child can literally be dropped in your lap without notice. It is important to get very honest with yourself about whether you and your immediate family members are in a position to parent this child. Are you in the middle of a divorce or a health crisis? If yes, is there someone else better equipped within the family to parent the child, even temporarily? Could you become better equipped through foster-to-adopt training and some family counseling?
When you become instant parents, reach out to local agencies and churches for support in receiving food, furniture, clothing, and to locate a support group in your area.
Ali Caliendo began Foster Kinship in Las Vegas, Nevada because she felt passionate about helping kinship families. The daughter of a closed-era adoptee and a new foster-to-adopt parent, she understood that the current support available to kinship families is lacking. She has tried to fill the gap in Las Vegas, Nevada by opening a non-profit that focuses on kinship families. Her website is helpful in understanding the issues and for directing people to resources. Her podcast is outstanding! Have a listen! Here is a helpful list of resource available to kinship caregivers in most states.
LEGAL AND FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
There is funding that is available to kinship families who become foster parents and/or legal guardians to the child in their care. Many benefits are temporary and will depend on the income of the family, although talk to a caseworker at your Job & Family Services about opening a child-only case. Many kinship families struggle financially and will need to reach out for as many resources as they can find. Start with internet research. Also, calling a child's school, church, or by reaching out to a Kinship Navigator program in your town is a good place to start. Area Agencies on Aging for older adults can also be a good resource.
When you adopt your relative, you become ineligible for many of the resources available to non-adopted kin. However, one benefit is that your family is protected legally from a change of custody (adoption severs the rights of the biological parents and makes you and/or your spouse, legally the parents). Adoption will waive any rights to child support. You may become eligible to receive the adoption subsidy, which is a tax credit that reimburses you for your out-of-pocket adoption fees (attorneys fees and filing fees). The child may also become available to receive social security if one of the kinship adoptive parents retires while the child is still a minor.
It is important when making legal decisions, to seek legal counsel from a certified family law specialist and/or ask for referrals from friends and family members who have used an attorney they can recommend.
|How ACE's affect a person over a lifetime|
TRAUMA CONSIDERATIONSNot living with either of your biological parents is a trauma. If we do not support traumatized kids, they are at risk for repeating the trauma in their own families and for early death (see graph at left). The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) survey can help you understand what kind of trauma are common in at-risk families.To take the ACE test, go here. The higher your score, the more trauma you have experienced. Trauma-informed training is very important for kinship families in order to successfully parent children in their care.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders.
EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
It might sound trite, but put on your own oxygen mask first. Self-care and support are key in being a successful kinship family. Support groups, family therapy, or receiving respite care for the child(ren) in your care are very important for you to stay balanced and healthy while raising your kin. Reach out and ask for help!