Child welfare professionals who support kinship care families face unique challenges to find safe placements and help these families thrive. In the family finding process, you identify extended family members and other family connections as potential placements for a child who cannot remain safely home. However, these family members must often accept this placement on short notice. How can you help the kinship families you connect with feel prepared for this child? How can you set up the relatives in this child’s circle for successful kinship care?
How Child Welfare Professionals Can Support Kinship Care
1. Educate yourself.
The more informed you are about the services and resources available to you and the families you serve, the better you can support the children’s best interests. In addition to your organization’s policies and best practices for ongoing education, consider what other information you can gather to help these families. Think creatively about the resources you might need “in your back pocket,” such as:
- Are there community education classes for common issues they will face, like parenting, nutrition, internet safety, and financial planning?
- Do the local faith communities, community centers, or senior centers offer mentoring, homework help, or after-school care?
- What cultural and religious resources in your community will help the families support a child of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than the caregivers who are raising them?
- How does the Kinship Navigator program in your state work? What resources do they offer for formal and informal kinship care? For respite care? For legal protections? Reunification planning? Is this tool accessible for families to navigate?
Another excellent tool for informing yourself is the lived experiences available on social media. Never before have we had such an opportunity to hear from foster care alums, adult adoptees, and adults raised in kinship families. Of course, choose your sources wisely! But consider that those with lived experience are valuable voices to help us learn about emotional well-being, identity formation, and other common challenges that today’s generation of kids face.
2. Educate the families.
Preparing caregivers to accept a child they were not expecting to raise brings many obstacles. You can help them think through their abilities and resources by inviting them to conversations and giving them a voice in decision-making. Giving them all the facts you are learning about this child’s case is critical so they can process what they are learning.
Recognize that each caregiver and other stakeholders in this child’s life will tolerate the information you share differently. Some may be quick to process; others may need time and repetition. Though you may feel a time crunch to find a safe landing place for this child, take your time to present the facts in several ways. Establish a sense of calm and safety when you speak with potential caregivers so they can think clearly. None of the family members should feel pressured to accept a kinship care placement. If they can take time to process and evaluate what they learn, you can be more assured that they weren’t feeling coerced to take the child.
Take advantage of the many formats available for caregivers about your state and county’s rules, best practices, and caregiver rights within the system. Consider offering to help them find a support group. These online and in-person communities are excellent forms of education and support, and they will have opportunities to hear how kinship care works from others living it.
3. Honor the original family.
The child and their birth parents deserve the honor and respect of having their voices heard in this process. Their rights must be preserved and protected. You can serve as their advocate even if the relationships among extended family are precarious.
It’s crucial to get to know this child, the dynamics they experienced at home, and what services and support they may have already received before removal from their parents’ care. These touchpoints will help you create continuity for the child when they move into a relative’s home. They can also validate the parents’ attempts to provide well for their children despite struggles in the house. Further, you also understand the gaps in the child’s care and what resources they need in their new home.
4. Handle a relative’s resistance with care.
When a potential caregiver is resistant to working with the welfare system, be curious about why they feel that:
- Have they had negative experiences, firsthand or not?
- Do they justifiably fear discrimination or racism?
- Do extensive education requirements put them off? Why?
- Do they misunderstand their role or yours? Or is this an issue of mistrust?
It’s common for family members to feel resistant to inviting the child welfare system into their homes. It can feel intrusive and embarrassing. You can help them overcome these concerns by taking time to re-frame the process as a tool to help the child heal and thrive despite their parents’ struggles.
Even if they have extensive parenting experience, you can help them understand that the required parenting classes will give them new tools to meet the needs of a child who has experienced trauma, chaos, and loss.
When the education requirement feels like a huge obstacle for a family already in crisis, consider how to offer alternatives that will satisfy the requirements and equip them more appropriately or with less inconvenience. After all, they are all facing a potentially significant transition. Can you bring the classes to them in personal sessions? Is there an online alternative? Do any local organizations run courses that will meet your organization’s standards?
It’s also crucial to remember that a family member’s resistance to working with the system may not be a resistance to welcoming this child to their home. Listening to their concerns and employing curiosity will help you understand their problems. You can use that information to help you find the support and information they need to make the best decision for the child. There is strength in all of you holding the child’s best interests at the core of your efforts, and staying “on board” is easier for all of you.
5. Be honest about the obstacles in kinship care.
As you get to know the parties involved in this child’s case, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the circumstances are challenging – for the family members, the child, and within the system. You can do some self-work to increase your awareness of your biases and the system’s flaws and biases. Recognize that your experiences, history, and prejudices will influence your interactions. You can offer these family members the same courtesy.
However, also acknowledge that safety measures are available to buffer against these biases and challenges. One significant buffer includes the fact that this child even has the option to be placed with kin. Kinship families can provide protective factors for the children, such as stability, continuity, connection with siblings, and improved mental health outcomes. These potential caregivers might need to be made aware of the value they can bring to this child’s life. Another safety measure is the use of comprehensive assessment tools that are objective and provide balance in evaluating the family’s needs.
Additional Resources to Help Professionals Support Kinship Care
Below is a list of resources we respect and trust to guide you as you support the kinship families in your program.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway’s Working with Kinship Caregivers – a bulletin for professionals supporting kinship caregivers.
- Generations United’s National Center on Grandfamilies
- Grandfamilies.org’s GrandFacts Fact Sheets – data for all the states, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, about grandfamilies’ rights and resources
Additionally, you can bolster your “database” of resources for the families you serve by compiling lists of the following:
- Support groups by your agency, partner organizations, or other community services
- Online support groups
- Trauma-informed therapists in your community
- Respite care policies and reliable providers
- Your local Council on Aging
- Your local AARP
- Your state’s Kinship Navigator site
In addition to our Kinship Care resource page, CreatingaFamily.org also offers an all-in-one curriculum for agencies and organizations who want to create parent and caregiver groups. Schedule a curriculum demonstration at our site – we are thrilled to discuss it with you!
Finally, CreatingaFamily.org offers a free monthly newsletter for child welfare professionals. We share recent content, resources from other organizations we respect, and practical tips you can provide families with. You can sign up here by tapping this hyperlink.
Image Credits: Kampus Production; Artem Podrez; Mikhail Nilov