Unique Challenges of Kinship Care and Adoption

What should you know if you choose to care for or adopt a family member? Host Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, the national infertility & adoption education and support nonprofit, interviews Sylvie de Toledo, the founder of Grandparents As Parents and co-author of Grandparents As Parents: A Survival Guide For Raising A Second Family; and Cate Hawk, founding director of NewFound Families-Virginia.

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* Note this is an automatic transcription, please forgive the errors.

[00:00:01] Today we’re going to be talking about the unique challenges of kinship care and adoption. We’ll be talking with Kate Hawke. She is the founding director of newfound families in Virginia. She serves on the board of the National Foster Parent Association and is the vice president of the National kinship Alliance for Children. We’ll also be talking with Sylvia Toledo. She is the founder of Grandparents of parents and the co author of the book grandparents parents A Survival Guide for raising a second family. Welcome Kate Suvi. You so much for joining us today to talk about this important topic. I think we need to kind of begin at the beginning which always helps. What do we mean by kinship care what is included within that general term. Good morning. Thank you for having us. Kinship care is referred to as when a relative steps in and takes in a child that is related to them but that they did not give birth to could be a grandparent an aunt and uncle or a cousin or a Big Brother Big Sister anyone who is related to the child and even a nonrelated extended family member can be considered a kinship provider. So that would be maybe a neighbor a family friend somebody who’s known the child and steps in if there are no relatives and the parents are unable to appropriately parent the child. OK. And I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about this because this could be a show on its own. But Kate why is kinship care in most states.

[00:01:48] I should start by saying emotional states kinship care is considered preferable to non relative foster care. So why is that the case why do we prefer what’s the theory behind thinking that kinship care is preferable. Thank you for having me. One of the things that people should know is that all of the research all of the research that has been done across the country about comparing children being raised in kinship care are being raised in substitute care such as foster care shows that the children do better when raised by family because they retain their family bond. They keep a family relationship they know their roots they retain relationships with those family members that have been involved in their lives for a very long time. That’s not to say that foster care is not good foster care is good and necessary but when there is a family member the research has shown when the family is properly supported that they are the best alternative for a child who cannot live with their birth parents. OK we got a question that’s a good kind of a jumping off part to the the next topic we’re going to cover. This is from Brenda. She says we are caring for our son’s two kids. They left the kids three years ago when they were toddlers. It looked like now that neither parent is going to be able to parent at least for a while and maybe not ever. We need help in deciding how to go forward what are our options and the advantages and disadvantages. Thank you so much for talking about this. I think in order there’s a lot of information we don’t know from Brenda’s question.

[00:03:25] But look star and Kate would like to be with you about talking about there. The literature refers to three general types of kinship care informal voluntary and informal. I’ve seen that call different terms use but generally speaking let’s just hit the kind of the cliff note versions of what we mean by informal kinship care. That’s when a parent would just leave a child in the care of a relative which may well be what is happening and burn the situation in that situation. Who has legal custody of the child. Assuming that courts have not been involved and nothing has happened other than the child having been left with a with a relative Kate. So as long as the family has not gone to court to get custody and custody is retained by the biological parents and that can create a lot of problems for kinship caregivers across the country depending on what their laws are in their states or in their in their localities. It might be difficult to get medical care. It might be difficult to enroll children in school depending on what laws you have in your states. So if if if it’s an informal kinship care and the children are just less there then the custody retained is retained with the parents unless of course the department social services has stepped in and removed the children from the home then they then they are in the custody of the government. And then of course if the kinship care provider that the family if Brenda were to go to court and request custody of the children it could be legally transferred to her.

[00:05:07] And that would be actually falling under the formal kinship care where the child is in legal custody of the state in the state places the child with the kin. And in that case the the legal medical and educational decisions for the child are made by the state because the state is the one who has custody. Am I getting that correctly. Well that that is true. If the state actually comes and removes the children from the birth parents if the parents simply drop the child children off at the home of a relative right that birth parent has the custody and then the kinship caregiver would go to court to request custody be be moved from the birth parents to the kinship caregiver in which case the state never gets involved and the court just makes a decision which family is going to have the custody. The only time the date is up or the county ends up with custody is if the children are removed by the government and then the government takes the custody. In California we have referred to inform all as families who have probate guardianship through family court and for families who have come through a dependency court department public social services and this is kind of this hybrid that’s in there where some states call voluntary kinship care and that’s when the state has never taken custody of the children. But the state has been involved. Being the child welfare agency has been involved in the decision for the child to be placed with the with the can perhaps for the parents going to rehab or something rather than the state taking custody. They just were involved in the decision making process that the child would move to a grandparent or some other relative. Right.

[00:07:02] Well there is an important caveat there that you might want to make sure that your reader your listeners know about. If I may. Please. OK. One of the things that people need to know is if if that happens everyone needs to know that there is actually a federal law that it is responsibility of government when they go to remove a child from the birth parents. They are responsible for finding a relative. That’s their first responsibility to find a relative to place their child with that relative and prevent foster care placement Yeah. A good point. And the other thing that’s I think important for people listening to know is that this all varies by state and especially not the emphasis is supposed to be across the board as you point out it’s federal law. But what different states call and how hard they try all of that that differs by state. So keeping that in mind as we as we move forward. And honestly one of the distinction that is important and it might be helpful for Brenda to be thinking about in deciding how to move forward is the aid of financial or other aid that is available for different types of kinship care providers. Silvie what is the main distinctions that for somebody like Brenda who’s trying to decide what to do how to move forward. It sounds like it sounds like she’s an informal kinship care of the children which is right in Brenda’s situation. She would need to go to probate court to get legal guardianship of the children.

[00:08:50] And what she would be then eligible for the children would be eligible for and they are eligible now even without legal guardianship. If they’ve been in her home she can request assistance from the Department of Public Social Services. In California it’s called Cal for action. It’s the welfare and get medical help for the children. Now if it would be hard pressed for her to go to Department of Child Welfare because the kids are not being abused or neglected and they’ve been with their grandparents for quite some time. And so Department of Children Family Services only gets involved if there is suspicion of abuse or neglect. And that would be against the grandparents because they’ve been with the grandparents so they would not get involved at this point. She could not go and say my grandchildren have been with me for three years and I’d like to make this permanent through child welfare. She would have to go through probate court. And you raise but before you raise a really interesting point that I want to circle back to but before we do that different types of aid that might be available would be the child health insurance program CHIP possibly. Again I don’t know Brenda’s income level but what used to be referred to as food stamps. Now goes by SNAP Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program might be available the temporary also the temporary assistance. Still even family families again depending on whether or not she qualified that doesn’t address that. So that is what they’re eligible for that regardless of their income. But that work date that just been made. That does depend on the state. I did the research on this across the country. And Sylvia you have a fabulous state in terms of kinship here.

[00:10:52] You guys have been doing such great work but there are some states that and Virginia is one of those that if the grandparents don’t have legal custody then the children are not eligible for anything. Basically they have to have legal custody in order to get those programs you just spoke of. And the only way that they can get the SNAP program is if the grandparents or the relative actually has low income and qualifies. And the other piece of that to keep in mind for almost every state is that if you go forward for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families because you have legal custody or even the fabulous state of California you don’t have to have custody I love that. Then there is the other federal program called the Child Support Enforcement Program and child enforcement program will then come and try to collect child support from the relative to pay back the Kanof that the state is giving the grandparents. And that’s always been a very big deal for grandparents and relatives to understand because sometimes they don’t want to do it because they don’t want to create that wrinkle. Let me repeat what you said to make sure I’m understanding. So if Brenda wanted to the temporary tent of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families is available to the children in most states. If the grandparents have legal custody in some states perhaps in California and perhaps other states or not. But if the grandparents receive money through Tanev the birth of the needy families which they would be eligible for if they have legal custody then the state has the right to go back and go back to the parents.

[00:12:41] The birth parents that were just to make things clear back to the children’s parents and try to collect child support from them to pay back the kind of program. I understand you correctly Kate. That is correct. And the only way that they that child support does not have to do that is if there is a domestic violence situation in which the grandparents can prove that the child will be harmed or there could be a risk to the family or the child should that family that birth parent find out where the child is. OK. So only and we’re definitely incur Amsterdam revamp who do not have any legal protection for the children to get that guardianship so that before they apply for any kind of funding because oftentimes the children are used as a pawn and grandma is taking care of them while the parents might still be getting the welfare. And if the parent becomes aware that the welfare has been transferred to the grandparent they may come and take their child and the grandparent has no legal rights to the child if there’s nothing from a court yeah. Something to think about that Brenda needs to think about before going forward. And she also needs to be aware that in most states I don’t know California. You’d have to clarify this. But in most states when she does if she does decide to get custody and go for Tanoh for finds out her state doesn’t require the custody situation it is the child’s income that is counted.

[00:14:20] So when they go to fill out those applications and we get this question all the time when they go to solve those applications they’re only writing in the child’s income when it comes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Family. In most states. Right. They’re applying as a non needy caregiver. Right. Hence why most children are obviously going to qualify. Right. Yeah. And then there was the the other issue that be referred to at the beginning and that is in this we’re making assumptions but it sounds like bring the child welfare was never involved. Brenda has been caring for her two grandchildren for three years now for child welfare. There is there are some supplements that come to parents who are fostering children through foster care. And it’s my understanding that in most states that amount that that foster parents supplement or foster parent payment is higher than than the Tanev payments so much there. Yes significantly so. All right. So Brenda is parenting these children. Child welfare has not been involved. The parents let’s just use the word abandoned. I don’t know how involved they’ve been but has certainly not been parenting them for three years. Is there any way for Brenda to have that child welfare or get back involved for her to become a foster parent and to be eligible for the foster parent supplements. No there’s no way. Because child welfare would only get involved with the family if there was abuse allegations of abuse or suspicion of abuse or neglect. And in this case this was the parents plan and the children have not been abused or neglected by their grandparents. And if a case were to be opened it would mean that there’s a ding or Remarque against the grandparents right.

[00:16:25] In this case the grandparents have been providing adequate. And so they would not be the children would not be able to go through child welfare to receive the higher benefits. Those are only for children who come to their relatives through dependency court through the child welfare system and who are placed through them that child welfare has jurisdiction over that child. OK. Well it isn’t good news. Yeah go ahead. OK. Good news. If by any chance that children have any sort of disability that would then qualify for them for social security if they got qualified for Social Security. And Brenda decided that she wanted to adopt the children prior to the finalisation of the adoption as long as they are eligible for Social Security. They can then apply to their local departments or their state to receive adoption assistance which is a federal program that is matched by the state for adoption assistance including up to 2000 dollars in attorney fees. So if she moved toward the adoption because the children had a special needs there would be a way to find some resources for the children. And tell us how broadly do the does the government consider the word special needs. Let’s talk about that briefly there. There has to be a special needs assessment done by a physician who determines that child to have a child could have very very significant HD where they weren’t able to focus enough to learn in school. They could have sort of a disability that requires them to have a great deal of help in special education at school. They could have if they had some of the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome they may be able to qualify.

[00:18:29] And of course any child with developmental disability or a medical disability would of course qualify under Social Security. And we always encourage families be prepared to be declined when you first apply and you’ll have to appeal it because a lot of people get declined at first until you go through the process of appeal. And so coming up if the grandparents were of retirement age and were receiving retirement benefits and security and they adopted their grandchildren the grandchildren would be eligible for a portion of the relative the grandparents Social Security. That’s right. OK so if they were receiving Social Security if the grandparents are receiving Social Security and they add up the children the children will be eligible to receive a portion of the Social Security based on the fact that the relative adopted them and that’s only through it only if they proceed to adoption adopt. Yes. OK. One of the other distinctions between you know potential distinctions between the different types of kinship care is whether or not specialized training is required with formal. If you become a foster parent there is depending on the state anywhere between 30 35 hours usually of training that is required and oftentimes there’s continuing education training required as well. But what about if you are a foster parent. Ananth are not a foster parent that you’re providing care for your grandchildren or your relatives and you haven’t gone through the formal process and haven’t gone through. Department of Children and services or whatever whatever it’s called in your state DSS or whatever about or they weren’t tortured brain. Oh yeah. Are they wired to have friends.

[00:20:27] You know once when the government’s not involved there isn’t really any help for kinship caregivers. That’s why we we look so forward to so many kinship caregivers who are willing to go toward the adoption because we believe if they learn more about what’s available through the benefits of Social Security they might actually be able to get more help for the kids. But yeah there’s no training we can tell people that you could go to your local department of social services or child welfare agency and ask to be included in some of their training and sometimes through their prevention funds they’re able to allow kinship caregivers to attend foster care training to learn more. But there’s nothing required. OK. So if you are a relative of this doesn’t involve the question were you receive for Brenda. But if we could go back three years or if you were somebody else who is whose child is in the position could be your child or a relative you’re in the position of being asked to care for your relatives child or your grandchild. When you suspect that this is going to be for the long term let’s talk. And Kate I’m going to direct this to you and I also like for her to come in second should you should you. How do you get child welfare to be involved at that point. Should you. Do you really need to stay. Do you want to stay in your business or you should. What’s the advantage of having monetary now which is a significant one actually that. So if it were three years down the road for breach of previous agreements. Yeah yeah yeah.

[00:22:14] Many many kinship caregivers want nothing to do with the government being in their business. They would rather you know go to food pantries rely on their faith based communities rely on their community and their other family members to assist. The issue for many of them is that there is a fear there that social workers might come in and remove children. That’s one of the things that we tell people as a reason why not go toward the foster care angle is that if you went toward foster care if you had said if she had said to the relative Look I can’t take them you’re going to have to take them to social services. And then I will try to get them through foster care. The downside of a child being in foster care for a relative is that the state or the locality has complete responsibility and decision making on the placement. So if the state or the county was not satisfied or was worried about the children having contact with the birth parents they can come in for any reason at any time and remove those children and put them somewhere else. And that is a big issue I think Sally would agree a big laureate’s Rübig get right and why they don’t move toward foster care is because of that fear. Now in some states they are starting to create protections for that. But you know when you’re on the frontlines and your workers have a lot of kids on their caseload then they’re on the frontlines they’re making decisions they don’t necessarily have a lot of time to think through those decisions then.

[00:23:58] Q The family engagement planning that would be done in some states before they could remove the child they might just remove the child and every movement for a child is a trauma. And over 300 grandparents don’t want to lose the child. Go ahead and let’s say that Brenda’s daughter or son came and said you know we can’t take care of the children now. Can you take care of them and Brenda said no. I’d rather that they go to the foster care and then try to get them like you mentioned earlier. There is absolutely no guarantee that they will end up at the grandparents and if the CFS knows that it’s the grandparents who said no initially that the mom the kids weren’t abused or neglected the parents could not just couldn’t for whatever reason couldn’t take care of them and ask their parents to do it. And the parents said no they they would have a hard time getting those children placed with them. They would come up that they had originally said no they couldn’t take them right. But to say we need. We want the support we think these children are going to need specialized therapy or educational help. And we know that there is money available that we want for the children’s sake for them to be eligible for this money. You’re saying that even if that is their reason they would be hard pressed to guarantee that the children would end up would really you know it would depend on the social workers that are assigned to the family. It would depend on the attorneys that are assigned to the children. It would depend on the judge Yeah. So you have no. And and all of those are a lot right.

[00:25:39] It’s a big big risk to take risks. Yeah. OK. All right. So there are a lot of things to think through in this situation about what the better what’s your best bet is when first asking in this case three years later now I want to shift to talking about some of the unique issues that kinship care providers face in one of the first ones that I want to talk about such a real one. All of them are real but this one just really really gets at the heart of the matter. This is an unexpected change in your life circumstances that you didn’t ask for and what we will hear from people is things like this I didn’t choose this or I can’t help but feel like my life is being disrupted or are taken over or I’m doing this child or his family a favor. And you know those are real total unexpected change and what you thought your life was going to be what it is now becoming resulted in a feeling of loss and quite frankly often ambivalence. But I see it as so very often unvoiced because there’s a feel that you know this is not acceptable to say so how often do you see this as a issue facing kinship providers. Well I think that especially if you’re a grandparent an older you know a senior and you had really anticipated a different kind of retirement where you had maybe wanted to be a doting grandparent and not a parent after you know having raised your own family.

[00:27:24] And so the feelings are perfectly normal and perfectly natural and you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster and one day you feel like great you could do this and it’s you know it’s going to be you know with family support you’re going to get through this. Other days you feel like Oh my goodness I can’t even think about another day. I’m getting calls every day that my grandchild is misbehaving at school or I’m going to be losing my job because I have to take off for doctor’s appointments all the time or you know the child is being suspended from school. And so your whole life gets turned inside out and upside down. And so I think that it’s really at that point it’s really a good idea to get involved with a support group in your local area because you realize that you’re not the only one feeling these feelings. And it’s a place where you can talk freely and not feel judged or criticized because these are very normal feelings. Your life is being disrupted. It’s not just that you feel it when it is being. Certainly most people aren’t planning on this. Kate do you see a difference in kinship providers this feeling of ambivalence. Do you see any difference whether it’s the grandparent versus an aunt or a cousin or a sibling or is it pretty universal regardless. The feeling of being ambivalent ambivalent disrupted the change. Oh I think that it’s it’s that’s the issue for every single relative we’ve ever spoken with right. So whether you’re or whether you’re however her aunt or I think so it really depends on your age and how impacted because if you’re an aunt and you’re in your 30s you have a couple of your own children. You’re still raising kids.

[00:29:17] You may not have the same impact it’ll have a different impact if you still have your own children in the home. You’re going to experience different issues yet you’re still parenting. But what you may experience is you know your own children being resentful that there are you know your cousins. The cousins are coming to live with them and maybe they’re going to feel that the cousins are getting more and more attention than they are because they’re having trauma you know experiencing trauma. So you’re going to experience a lot of upheaval but it may be a different a different caliber and a different area rate. The other issue is when you’re an older American if you happen to be living in federal housing oftentimes that federal housing doesn’t let you have children and we find that relatives are having to hide the children and act like they’re not really living there they’re just visiting. So older Americans have a great number of challenges when trying to raise a relative’s child not only the emotional feelings but you know the restricted income that they have or the type of housing that they have. And it’s exhausting and it’s a different culture than when they raise children. And it’s exhausting. The children are coming to them with trauma. The children didn’t necessarily experience. Right. And let me say it’s not just federal housing. Many retirement communities don’t allow children. And we hear from people who are either facing having to move or trying to hide the children. Much more difficult I think in a retirement community. All right.

[00:31:04] So clearly another issue that we find in this is maybe particularly when it’s grandparents but also sometimes other relatives as well. And that is guilt guilt that they perceive that somehow it’s their responsibility or failure in parenting their child that has resulted in their child not being an involved parent or being an addict or being in jail or whatever the situation. What can we do. Any thoughts on what to talk what to say to a person who is feeling guilty because they failed as a parent and now they’re being punished because they’re now raising their grandchildren they’re afraid they’re going to screw up the grandkids too. Yeah we try to get people to seek out peer support because nobody understands that issue better than a another relative raising a relative child that it is not your fault. This is what is happening is you’ve become a hero to a child. Think of yourself as a hero. Don’t think of yourself as a failure or search out for people in your faith community in your community. Community Action Agencies co-operative extensions often have support groups. We had a number of Facebook support groups for kinship caregivers where other relatives if you start talking like that they’re going to come up they’re going to say don’t you talk like that. We are doing this for the children we are good people doing a good thing and you need that peer support to keep going because you do feel like you know you feel ashamed. It’s like you don’t want to tell people I’m raising my grandchildren then everybody in your commute looks at you like well what did you do wrong.

[00:32:47] As a parent I’ve had exactly tell me that and I know that do not let that happen to you. Get Right and you know try to encourage the caregivers to realize that their adult children made choices. And also you’re a different as far as you are a different parent now and even if you did make mistakes we all make mistakes and that’s not to say that you’re going to repeat the mistake. You’re a different person now as well and have parenting in a different way and will parent in a different way. Yeah. And the support groups are vital. Creating a family has a very active online support group with many content providers and there as well. But there are many others as well online. And if you’re fortunate you will be able to find a person. Another unique challenge that kinship providers often face is how this affects the relationship with their child’s parent with the. If you were the grandparent that it would be with your child. But if you’re a kinship provider cousin or sister or whatever. This is from a question we received from Debbie. I am raising my grandson because my daughter is an addict and probably also has some mental health issues. It has been a real struggle financially because I had to cut way back on my hours because he has a lot of appointments and because childcare is so expensive that it’s cheaper for me to stay home and pay child care. I am considering trying to make this an official foster care arrangement so that I can get help from the state. And in fact we’ve already talked about it.

[00:34:35] That may not be possible but nonetheless her point is that my daughter is serious and I’m doing this. She is threatening me and threatening to take my son away. Her son away. I don’t know what to do. The point I think the bigger point is that Debbie’s daughter who is her grandson’s mother who she is raising is threatening her to take the son away and the impact it’s affecting her relationship with her daughter. Any thoughts on that. Silvie Well I think it’s very important for Debbie to document all of the daughter’s behaviors and what is going on if she’s visiting if she’s not visiting if she’s calling if she’s coming and she’s spending time with the grandchild but she’s on the phone the whole time. Because at some point this may be ending up in probate court we’re in family court where she is going to have to really advocate for the placement of her grandson with her. Because if the mother is an addict and is having mental health issues and may not be getting properly medicated if if that’s what she needs. It’s going to be incumbent on Debbie to have the proper documentation so that she can prove to the court that the mother is not at this point capable of parenting the grandchild. You know how often do you see anger at their child become an issue. Because are their relatives. Because I can see certainly that you would just be mad mad that your child or your sister or your cousin or whomever is making these choices that are impacting this child and impacting you Kate. Oh yes there is. There’s a lot of anger and frustration that you have to work through.

[00:36:32] And many of us have been there so I can’t say anything other than you’ve got to find support for yourself. And you know there are often times that we recommend families go to some of the anonymous programs for family members of addicts for example to try to get support from from those people who probably are also having to raise someone’s children too. So you got to find support. There’s only one way to process anger and frustration and everything that comes along with kinship care and that’s to find a support network that works for you and know that your feelings are perfectly normal and everyone is and that’s in your position has been there. Yeah I think that’s powerful. Let me read a. Another question that was sent and this is from Teresa. I am raising my niece. She’s been with me for almost a year and she just turned 7. We’re having lots of problems. My sister and I are polar opposites. And when my niece acts like her it pushes all my buttons from childhood. It also scares me because how my sister turned out. I’m wondering if my niece would be better with someone without all the family baggage. This one broke my heart. There’s so much to so much and dig here with the idea of transference and projection and things like that. Sylvie learned to give make an attempt at first to talk to Theresa about the issue of seeing her sister and her niece and interfering with her ability to be a good parent. To be parenting the way she chooses to parent. You know my heart goes out to Teresa.

[00:38:20] And I think that because she’s articulate enough to verbalize that and to realize that it may be interfering or coming you know becoming a part of what her parenting it will be important for her to get some therapy to help deal with her childhood and her her past her present because she needs to learn that she can break the cycle. She just needs to get some techniques and some to work through the issues and you know possible trauma that she and maybe her sister have experienced. But the biggest plus for Teresa is that she is acknowledging that it may be an issue. Absolutely. This little girl is better off with family especially. I mean this is a positive thing that Teresa is acknowledging that there is an issue for her yeah I think they should really work through and not give up the child because this would be intensely traumatic for this little girl to lose her mother and then her aunt and the trauma that she would go through and it may not be even repairable at that point with all the losses of the rocks in her life. What are some. This is not an uncommon feeling of of being angry at or or angry at the child’s parent or seeing that fearing that the child is going to be turning out like their parents. But what are some things that if we are the caretaker for this child how do what are some things that we need to make certain that we do to allow this child to have some positive things about their parent particularly when you’re feeling positive things about their parent especially if if you’re struggling to find anything positive about their parents at that point. Right.

[00:40:27] Well I think one of the things that is really important to get started is that there is and I would say this to her. There is an instrument called the Elders child experiences assessment tool. And I would guess that she probably would score in middle range to high range in terms of what she experienced in terms of childhood trauma and that has to be dealt with her own trauma related to working through with her sister growing up in a condition in which all her buttons were getting pushed. So dealing with understanding your own feelings your own trauma and then making sure that you’re identifying the trauma issues for the child and searching out for a really good trauma informed therapist who can help people work through the trauma. Because we have learned for years now that when children and adults go back and realize their trauma and work through their trauma and find new ways to process their histories they do much better. The other thing is that she has got to come to a position in which she is taking care of herself. Self care is one of those things that nobody ever thinks about when they’re in the middle of running up and down a railroad track. You’re not thinking about Obamacare. You’re just trying to get off of the railroad track and you have got to take time for self care. And there are some we have the internet. It is so easy now to find tools and help for it. What do I need to be doing to take care of myself because I can’t take care of this child properly unless I have taken care of myself.

[00:42:16] And I would tell her she has got to work on taking care of herself in this process and that will help her make the right decisions for her and for the child. If I’m giving you a standing ovation on both points I am so thankful you raised our own are what we bring to the table as a parent matters and our own childhood our own trauma. It does influence how we are and self. Self care is something that if it’s almost become a mantra for all types of parenting for us but especially when we’re parenting a child that’s come from a difficult background even without just self care because your life has been turned upside down and you need to honor that. I also think sometimes it’s helpful to think back to. There’s probably something that you like about their parents or have liked about their parents in the past and it’s important for kids to hear that because so all right and they don’t hear anything positive. And I think that’s important for us to share and sometimes it may take a little digging as in Teresa’s case to think about some positive characteristics or talents or just the funny stories or something about their parents because kids need to hear good things about their parents right and then they think of themselves as a reflection of their parents. So you have nothing that you can think of good about that person then they begin to feel there’s nothing good about themselves. So I am giving you a standing ovation because that’s such an important point is to be able to say hey you know she was a great artist.

[00:43:58] She could draw a dragon like nobody could draw dragons or she had a voice like an angel or whatever you can think of. She was very helpful to people she took care of mom or something. But you’re right because if you don’t help them see positives in their parents they begin to feel that they have all of the attributes that you are experiencing with their parent becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if my parent is bad then I’m going to be bad. Right. Yeah. There’s no hope for me. It’s also empowering for them to know that you know you do have some of your mom your mom your dad’s talents and potential and you can make different choices. You know you have that ability as well. They weren’t necessarily a bad person for the choices they made. And you have the ability to make different choices. That’s the power that you have. I think I’m getting ready to interrupt somebody with somebody get him and say something. I just want to throw in there that one of the things that people need to also understand about the trauma that the children are are facing and that you yourself is faced as a as a caregiver and your history is that depending on when the trauma happens depends on when a part of your normal development gets interrupted and can also be kind of arrested or frozen. So if you if the child had gone through an experience at a very early age of trauma and never got the bonding or the independent thinking development process in their own growth then they’re kind of going to be arrested in that.

[00:45:42] So you also have to be really cognizant of where that child is and when that abuse started. So I really encourage people who are facing those kind of situations to say OK let’s look at when this abuse started and what was supposed to happen with that child development that could be telling. Giving me signals and information about what I need to do differently in parenting that child. Right. Because the emotional age is different than their chronological age. And so expectations may need to be adjusted. Saluting let me reference. We have created a family has a course with Dr. Dan Siegel that talks a lot about what we as parents bring to the table and how it influences how we attached to our children and how we respond to our kids and that we as parents need to own what we’re bringing to the table so that we are better able to help our kids it’s the course of parental attachment the importance of attachment style. Dr. Dan Siegel and it’s one of my one of my very favorite one of the interesting things that comes up specially when we start talking with families about moving forward perhaps into adoption are permanent custody arrangements permanent guardianship or adoption is a feeling that if they do this they’re giving up all hope that their relative their child their child parent is going to ever get better. So we have to we talk to that. I mean there’s that fine line between being living in denial and everybody needing hope. And how do grandparents as well as other relatives and that’s probably the hardest on grandparents I suspect. How do they walk that line.

[00:47:42] Well a lot of it has to do with the giving the child permanence and security and knowing that they won’t be yanked out of the home. And oftentimes when you are involved with the child welfare system they push adoption because they don’t want a child floundering in foster care and they want permanence for the child. So sometimes you feel pressured into it. And what we’ve seen depending on the age of the child is that sometimes it’s actually better for the child who might be closer to age 16 if their legal guardianship through street dependency court they may be eligible for more resources and services for college. And so it’s sort of you know you have to look at really what’s best for each individual family situation with a younger child that is much better to adopt because in legal guardianship the parents can always attempt to get the child back. And it would if they got their act together even if the child was 14 or 15 we’ve seen where the guardianship has been reversed and the child was returned to the parents even against the child’s wishes. So you know you really have to look at the for deciding to do adoption that’s what’s best. Each individual family. There’s not a blanket. You can’t make a blanket statement that will work for every family. That very true. Kate how about that. That feeling that if I were to seek adoption or permanent guardianship it means that I’m giving up on my child or my relative mainly the child that you raise your child your child if you’re the grandparent raising your grandchild. You know that’s a very powerful emotion and it changes kind of the whole family tree.

[00:50:05] All I can say is that if you make the decision to go there you are making that decision in the best interest of the child. And so just focus on the fact that you’re doing this for the child and you’re making that best interest decision for them and find a way to deal with your pain and your hurt. Separate from that yeah and I guess that’s that’s very true. And I I also think that trying to make a distinction that this is the best plan whatever it is you decide in the Silvie points you need to look at a broad spectrum of things. It’s the best plan for now but it doesn’t mean that you don’t think your child the child’s parents your grandchild’s parents your child is going to get better. They can still get well they can still get on medication or whatever the issue is. And at that point you will reassess and they can have another rule another crack as having a role in the child’s life. It’s not the same as giving is totally giving up. Absolutely Don. We have seen many families where the child has been adopted and years later the road the parent the biological parent has taken you know the right path has gotten rehabilitated and who now is very involved and in the child’s life and should anything happen to the grandparents or the grandparents want to go on vacation. They have adopted those children. They can determine what the relationship is with the birth parent. We have seen birth parents come back into the picture and be very very involved in the child’s life and that is wonderful.

[00:51:55] That’s like the best scenario for everyone because then everyone who loves the child is involved with them. I have a friend retinues whose aunt has her is her mother. And she didn’t find that out until later in life. And it always had a great relationship with the aunt who when she finds out was her mother. But the the issue is that you’re right Sylvia. You can have a great relationship. The future is not for you yet. So you don’t know what’s going to happen. Just take care of the child take care of yourself and keep engaged with your child if you possibly can for the day when they do turn everything around and come back. That can happen by. Exactly and by choosing permanency for the child you are not precluding that from happening. It may even be giving it a greater chance of happening. Who knows. You don’t know in the future. Another thing that comes up is the feeling of of divided loyalties. And this is particularly the case. Well perhaps it’s not more so but I certainly know more examples when this happens when it is the grandparent raising a grandchild and they feel a sense of loyalty to their adult child but they also have a sense of loyalty to their grandchild the child that they are currently raising and that it gets complicated and it gets and sometimes it gets very complicated.

[00:53:22] For instance an example that has come up in our support group is that there’s a protective order where the adult child is not supposed to be having contact with the with their child and the grandparent has to feel like they have a responsibility and they they believe in their child and they don’t believe that their protection order is correct. That it’s complicated. And so let’s talk a little bit about the feelings of allegiance and divided loyalties. Kate why don’t you start off on that. I think that they’re divided loyalty issue is a very real and you have to you have to recognize that and you have to accept that you’re going to have those feelings. You’re going to have those feelings even more if you decide to go the foster care who out because you will have social workers will be watching over you making sure you don’t have any contact with that child and the child has no contact with their birth parents. But that that divided loyalty about what’s best for the child and what’s best for the adult child is I have to say I always believe it’s the minor child who’s you have to side on the on the side of that child. You have to do what is best for that child and try to reason and make decisions and have conversations with the birth parent. But always in my opinion you always honor what is best for the young child. I agree Kate and we have seen where a child has been removed from the home because the grandparent did not abide by the court order regarding visitation or or lack of. And so it is imperative that the relatives abide by the court order for the protection of the child even if they’re not in agreement. And it’s very sad because it really put the grandparents in an adversarial position with their adult child.

[00:55:33] But unfortunately like Kate said you have no choice if you were going to be responsible for that child. You have to protect the child in the way that child welfare sees the situation. Yeah. You may not have the ability to change that. It is. It’s going to be you can try to change it but because if it fails then you are more siding with the adult Cheit your adult child than the grandchild they met. That may be reason enough for them not to place the child in your home and you to make sure the guardian ad litem is also a big player in this. In most states there is a guardian ad litem and if the guardian ad litem is saying that you have divided loyalties and that the Guardian is not sure which side the child is going to come out on and that divided loyalty they’ll make recommendations to the court for the child to be moved. And that’s what the court will do. So how do you deal with that. How do you deal with the fact that you your adult child is going to be mad at you if you if you side with the minor child your grandchild or their child. I mean so what have you. Have you mind. How do you process in your mind the fact that your adult child is going to be furious and threatened to cut off her relationship. Well I remember a lot of tears myself. And you have to remember you wouldn’t be in this position if they hadn’t done something to put the child in jeopardy in some kind of danger that he’ll survive. It also helps to remember that they’re an adult.

[00:57:24] I think that we all have a tendency to fantasize our children and think of them even when they’re in their 20s or older as still children. And in fact they’re not. They’re an adult and they made a choice. So that that helps perhaps a little with developing a backbone wanting to step up to stand up to your to your adult child. Sure. And it’s not easy it’s not easy to stand up to that adult child. It’s going to be painful. Which is another reason and I don’t want to be harping on this but it’s another reason why support groups are so vital. Because I have had I don’t know how many relatives kinship caregivers say to me I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this group to go to because there is no one else who understands it better. And oftentimes these relatives who are facing this who are working her dealing with that divided loyalty or divide or working through their anxiety their frustration or their aggravation. They’re also dealing with other relatives who are say just give the child a social services or just give the child back. You’re not responsible for the child. And so they have all of that to deal with. So the number of stressors that come into the life of a kinship caregiver is unbelievable for most people unless they have lived it. That’s why a support group is your best source to get through that anxiety and you are going to cry and you are going to hurt you.

[00:59:00] It’s going to be painful but at the end of the road you’re going to see a child that’s going to blossom because they had someone who stepped up and put them first and that’s what you’re doing. You know there’s a wonderful quote that says What do children the children need. One person they need one person to step up for them. And you’re being asked to be that one person and you can do it. And that always gives me goose bumps to think about that. You know it’s it’s great. There’s a village but a lot of kids don’t have that. But what they really need is one person and you can be that on. Let me let you guys talk a little about your organization right now because both of them provide such wonderful resources. So Sylvia tell us about grandparents and parents and let me give that Web site right now because I know that everybody listening is going to want to go their grandparents as parents. All one word dot org. So Sophie what resources will people find who are parenting their grandchildren. Well first of all we can help you link up with organizations in your state if you are currently living in California. If you go to our Web site or call us and we also but for caregivers who are in our area we provide weekly therapeutic support groups that we have. We also do education. We do a conference every year for relative caregivers. We do a lot of advocacy and crisis intervention. We’ll go with you and intervene on your behalf with child welfare. If you’re having issues with the child’s school we’ll go with you to the school we’ll set up an IEP.

[01:00:49] So really what we try to do is that we’ll do referrals and resources. We try to be a one stop shop for families who are putting their own lives on hold to take over parenting a child whose parents can’t do it. Excellent. And Kate tell us about new film families of Virginia the biggest Web site forgot this. Here’s the Web site. New found a dot org. New found that things were done. The new found a dog. Sorry about that just wanted to make sure I got the part right now. Tell us about your family and what you found. People we found families is an organization for Virginians who are raising relatives children or are foster parents or adoptive parents which is kind of interesting to be supporting all of those people but we believe that if we all work together in foster adoption and kinship care we will do the best thing for kids. So we also would be happy to connect you with other states. But we do have an organization called the National kinship Alliance for Children which for which I am the vice president and that organization has a toll free number and they people can call that number and also get connected with supports that organization also has a support group called kinship caregivers of America. It is a very strong kinship support group and I would encourage people to check that out for for help. Also you will find on our Web site and even if you just put the words grand JRA and d k i n Grant can guide into your web browser. It’ll either take you to the Children’s Bureau.

[01:02:36] It’ll take you to new found families of Virginia where the national kinship alliance but it is a guide also to help relatives understand the types of kinship care and the types of assistance and support either through custody or through informal care or through adoption that might be available to them. And it’s a great guide. I strongly recommend it and the Web site for the National kinship Alliance for Children is a lot like dot org. So another great resource for for families to access. And one other one I want to mention because I really enjoyed it as well because a video series with drones is crumbling and it’s called engaging kinship caregivers and I’ve really enjoyed that it’s provided we’re funded by the Annie Casey Foundation. And you can just google that and engage in kinship caregivers and you can joke probably problems name in there and he will he will pop that resource will pop up and it’s free as well. Well worth looking up. Let me remind everyone that the information given in this interview is general advice to understand how to apply it to you to you and your specific situation please work with a professional that you are engaged in case that you’ve got specific questions on how it might apply to you.

Hit the Highlights
  • What do we mean by kinship care?
  • Why is kinship care preferred over care by non-related families for kids who can’t be parented by their parents?
  • 3 types of kinship care: informal, voluntary, and formal
  • Informal kinship care-parent leaves child in care of relative
    • No legal custody. Importance of legal custody.
    • Who can make legal, medical and educational decisions for the child?
    • Temporary guardianship may be an option.
    • What aid is available for children and families?
  • Voluntary Kinship Care
    • Voluntary kinship care refers to situations in which children live with relatives but the child welfare agency is involved, but the State does not take legal custody.
    • What are some scenarios where this happens. Child welfare agency involved, but parent agrees to place child with relative while they go to rehab. Court order. Child welfare workers find signs of abuse or neglect by the parents, but the evidence is insufficient to support taking the children into State legal custody. Instead, caseworkers, parents, and kin work out a voluntary kinship care arrangement in which the children move in with the kin
    • Who can make legal, medical and educational decisions for the child?
    • What aid is available?
    • Do voluntary kinship providers have to go through the state-mandated foster parent educational training?
  • Formal Kinship Care-child is in legal custody of state and the state places the child with kin
    • Who makes legal, medical, and educational decisions for the child?
    • What aid is available?
    • Do the kinship providers have to have formal training?
  • Adoption by kinship care providers.
  • Financial Aid that may be available to kinship care providers.
    • The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to provide financial assistance while helping low-income families become self-sufficient. Caregivers do not need to have legal custody in order to apply for TANF benefits, but they do need to meet their State’s TANF definition of a kin caregiver.
    • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) refers to the Federal Food Stamps program. SNAP is available to families with incomes below a certain level.
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be available to children or caregivers who are disabled.
    • If grandparents are receiving social security and they adopt, the child may be eligible.
    • States have the option to pay for kinship guardianship assistance program (GAP) payments to support children and youth placed in guardianship arrangements with relatives
    • Many children being raised by relatives are eligible for medical insurance through either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • Is it possible to start off as an informal kinship provider and then turn that into a formal kinship care arrangement with the state child welfare agency in order for the child and family to qualify for foster care subsidies?
  • Special/unique issues for kinship care providers.
  • Unexpected change in life circumstances. (e.g. “I didn’t choose this” “can’t help but feel like my life is being disrupted” “I’m doing this child/his family a favor”)—resulting in feelings of loss and ambivalence, but often unvoiced.
  • Do you see a difference if the kinship provider is a grandparent vs. an aunt, cousin, sibling, etc?
  • Guilt at what they perceive is their responsibility or failure in parenting their child.
  • Torn feelings of allegiance/divided loyalties-should they put the child’s needs over the need/want of their adult child?
    • Not allowing their child who has been accused of abuse contact with the child.
    • Not wanting to adopt the child because it would make their adult child/relative mad.
  • Majority of kinship care providers are over 50.
  • Financial pressures
  • Changing role from grandparent, aunt, etc. to parent.
  • Relationship with the child’s parent. Child’s parent threatens to take child away.
  • Anger at their adult child or relative.
  • Anger can impact relationship between the kinship care provider and the child–projection/transference
    • “They need to hear about the positive characteristics, talents and events in their parent’s life/youth.”
    • “They need to hear about what you liked about their parents and moments when you had positive memories of their parents.”
    • “They need to hear how they can use their potential/talents differently from the birth parents.”
  • Giving up hope on your relative/the parent of the child. “If I adopt or apply for permanent guardianship, it means that I have no hope for my relative to get better.”
  • Tips:
  • Resources:

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