September is Kinship Care Month, and it’s an ideal time to honor and recognize the meaningful roles that kinship caregivers play in providing stable and loving homes. What are kinship care providers? And how can they make a transformational impact in the lives of children and teens? Let’s explore the significance of kinship care, its benefits and the vital role kinship caregivers play in developing youth.
What is Kinship Care?
Kinship care (or relative care, as it is commonly called in some areas) refers to a caregiving arrangement in which relatives, like grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings, step up to care for a child when their biological parents are unable. However, kinship caregivers are not always blood relatives. Occasionally, the best fit for a child is the care of a family friend, coach, teacher or neighbor.
Kinship caregivers selflessly step forward to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children in need. These caregivers offer love, guidance, and stability during challenging times, often without much preparation. “Kinship caregivers give a hopeless child, hope,” explains Kristi Ferrell, Director of Permanency with KVC. “They offer hope that a child can be safe for another day and that the child has a bright future ahead. They’re making a positive difference in a child’s life, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Kinship Care vs. Foster Care: What’s the Difference?
On any given day, nearly 428,000 children are in the United States foster care system. To visualize the magnitude of just how many children are in foster care, the five largest NFL stadiums in the United States could be filled to capacity and still not fit all the children and teens who are currently in the foster care system.
Through no fault of their own, many of these children have experienced abuse, neglect or other family challenges. As a result, the courts have removed them from their homes for their safety. Relatives, non-related kin and foster families provide care and support for these children while they are in out-of-home care.
In contrast to staying with a caregiver the child has never met before, kinship care ensures that children can remain within familiar surroundings, maintain connections to their roots and receive the support and love of their extended family. Studies estimate that 90% of children who enter foster care experience a traumatic event in their lives. Half of those children endure four or more traumatic events. Kinship care keeps the child in a familiar environment, which can offer comfort during a difficult season.
“Kinship caregivers give a hopeless child, hope.”
Why is Kinship Care Beneficial for Youth?
Kinship care provides many benefits to children in contrast to more traditional foster care settings. By placing children in the care of relatives or other close adults, children have the opportunity to grow up in a loving and familiar environment, which can minimize the trauma associated with separation from their biological parents.
Stability, Continuity and Belonging
Staying in a familiar environment, surrounded by people they already know and trust, helps children maintain a sense of stability during a challenging time. And the pre-existing relationships minimize the trauma and disruption and help youth feel loved and nurtured in their environment. This all contributes to a sense of belonging.
Maintain Cultural Ties and Traditions
Kinship care ensures that children maintain family contact that connects them to their roots, cultural heritage and traditions, which helps a child’s identity formation and wellbeing. For example, if a family always celebrates Thanksgiving at a grandparent’s home, a member of the extended family can preserve that tradition and help the child experience a sense of normalcy during a tumultuous time.
Understanding of Previous Behavioral History and Health Outcomes
Each child has their own strengths and challenges. Caregivers who have been around the youth will have a better idea of how to help and support them through the process. And with current research showing lower rates of continuing behavioral issues and improved mental health in children among kinship caregivers, experts hope these outcomes will continue into adulthood.
Likelihood of Parental Involvement and Reunification
Birth parents will often have an easier time staying engaged throughout the process when their child is staying with a relative or family friend. Studies have found that children within kinship care were able to reunite with their birth parents and return home an average of seven months earlier than children in traditional foster care homes.
What are the Requirements and Responsibilities of a Kinship Caregiver?
Kinship caregivers assume a broad spectrum of responsibilities in order to provide the necessary care and support for any children they care for. These responsibilities may vary depending on the needs of each child, but some common caregiving responsibilities include:
- Offering a safe and nurturing environment
- Meeting the child’s basic needs
- Providing continuous care until reunification (or until another permanency option is reached)
- Working with biological parents and other care professionals
After someone decides to become a kinship or foster caregiver, there are some common requirements to be considered. These requirements ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child are maintained and that adequate protection is provided for everyone involved.
- Must be at least 21 years of age
- Can be single or can provide care with a partner
- Meet basic income requirements
- Must meet child placing regulations – concerning a safe and healthy home environment
- Provide adequate bedroom space – including a separate bed for each child
- Have a phone and reliable transportation
- Willingly complete 30 hours of free training: West Virginia requires PRIDE (parent resource information development and education), as well as CPR/first aid, crisis de-escalation (MANDT) and other similar courses
- Agree to non-physical discipline for children
- Undergo complete background checks
It’s important to note that laws differ in the necessary requirements for kinship caregivers based on the state they live. Some have specific kinship care programs while others, like West Virginia, require kinship caregivers to certify as foster care providers. Additional questions and support about kinship or foster care can be found by contacting your local KVC office.
Kinship Care and Relative Care at KVC
With all the benefits and successes associated with kinship care, it’s a great place for professionals to start when a child must be removed from their birth family and are looking for a safe, stable environment. “It’s a policy, in some states, to require that child welfare professionals look for someone within the family or other kin to take the child before they go to a foster care family,” Ferrell says. Although kinship care has its benefits, it’s not without its challenges, and KVC provides resources like PRIDE classes, therapy services and much more to help foster and kinship caregivers and families thrive.
By ensuring the wellbeing of children in kinship care, and by working together, we can build a brighter future where every child has the love and stability they deserve.
How You Can Help
In the West Virginia foster care system, more kinship caregivers and foster parents are needed than ever before. The most significant way you can help is by becoming a foster parent. If you’re interested, we’d love to answer any questions you may have and guide you through the process. Click here to contact us!