Kinship care is a growing trend for foster care placements in the United States. Kinship caregiving often includes grandparents raising grandkids, but the term also includes other extended family members raising the children. Approximately 30-35% of children in foster care are in the care of a family member. Of course, there are many benefits to placing a child in kinship care. However, there are also many challenges in kinship care that families face.
What are the Common Challenges in Kinship Care?
Let’s take a look at some of the challenges by breaking them down into commonly experienced emotions kinship caregivers might feel.
Many kinship providers report feelings of shame. When caring for your grandchild, it is common to feel as if you have failed as a parent because your adult child cannot care for her child right now. You may also perceive others to be judging you. After all, the actions of your child have resulted in her child coming to your care.
Another common emotion that many kinship providers report is fear. It’s understandable to grapple with many of these fears:
- of the unknown, and that the child will go into foster care if you should fall ill or pass away
- of the child’s degree of needs and your ability to handle them as you age
- that your kinship child will turn out like their parent
- of “messing this kid up” and having Child Protective Services step in (again)
- of being judged by “authorities” as too old, too poor, living in too small a house, etc.
- of the impact that this placement will have on your relationship with your adult child or other extended family relationships
- of financial struggle
- of facing another round of the challenging teen years
Closely related to shame is the feeling of guilt that many kinship providers have to confront. It is not uncommon to feel guilty for the mistakes you made as a parent. You might also feel guilty about the lack of time caregiving now leaves for your other grandkids or your other kids – even if they are adults.
You may even struggle with guilt over how kinship care is impacting your time with your spouse. This dismay might feel magnified if you are in a second marriage or partnership. After all, your (new) partner did not sign up to help you raise children (again).
Anger or Resentment
It’s also understandable to feel anger or resentment when starting your caregiving experience. You may feel angry at your child or family member who “put you in this position.” It’s okay to resent that their decisions and life struggles have impacted you and this child. Just be careful not to linger or parent from that place of anger. Kids who have experienced trauma can be susceptible to that emotion.
Many kinship providers experience the pain of divided loyalties. The feeling of having to “choose a side,” whether it is between your child and her partner or between other family members, is painful for everyone – especially the child. It hurts to be in the middle.
Divided loyalties force you to reconcile your love for your child with a few things: the desire to protect him and the need to protect the best interest of his child. “Choosing a side” also means you have to manage your child’s (or extended family member’s) anger toward you. The impossible position of choosing sides also contributes to feelings of guilt and anger. It might feel like a vicious cycle.
Overcoming the Obstacles of Kinship Care
Once you’ve identified the emotions you might be feeling as kinship caregivers, it’s natural to ask, “So what do I do about these challenges?” We’ve compiled a list of practical tips to help you overcome the common challenges of kinship caregiving.
1. Make a committment.
Decide together, as a family if you can, that the child’s needs and best interest always comes first.
2. Bring in a professional.
Work with a social worker or therapist to help you all identify roles and define who does what.
3. Ditch the self-blame!
You did the best you could when you were raising your child. With age and life experience, you have learned things. “When you know better, you will do better.” (a paraphrase from the oh, so wise Maya Angelou!)
4. Set firm rules.
Work some essential boundaries and rules out with the child’s parent if possible. If alcohol or drugs are involved, begin attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon for the support they offer. If the child in your care is old enough, encourage him to attend an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family Group.
5. Keep it positive.
Don’t say negative things about the child’s parents, especially to the child.
6. Keep the child out of the middle.
Please don’t force the child to take sides between you and their parents. Remember that if divided loyalties are painful for you, they are more so for the child.
7. Get support.
Talk with the rest of the family about what help they might offer, from occasional meals to child care to a respite weekend. Look for a support group (in-person and online can both be beneficial). Check out Kinship Navigator Programs in your state.
8. Plan ahead.
Talk with your other family members about who would care for the child if you become unable to do so. Also, consult a family law attorney to get that arrangement and other legal protections set up for the child.
Grow and Thrive Together
As you know by now, kinship caregiving can bring many new challenges to your life when you were not expecting to be stretched and grown. At least not in these ways, right? However, try to remember, for your sanity and your new child’s well-being, that kinship care also brings with it an opportunity for joy and healing for your family.
These tips will help prepare you if you are getting ready to embark on a new relationship with your kinship child. If kinship caregiving is not new to you, we hope these tips will refuel you to hang in there and find new ways to thrive together as a kinship family.
Image Credits: Jackie; Angus Fraser; Carandoom