Kinship: An Important Provider

Written by Rochelle Strack, Kansas Caregivers Support Network

Many Kinship Caregivers throughout the state have received the phone call that one of their family members has entered Department of Children and Families (DCF) Custody. They are asked personal questions about their family and must make several decisions including: their willingness to submit to a background check; allowing workers to inspect their home; and about their willingness to care for their relative.  Decisions must be made quickly to prevent the child from moving around through multiple foster homes. They may also ask themselves many questions about the well-being of their own family. Can we care for another child? Can we keep this child safe? What resources will we need if we take placement? Can we afford an extra child in the home? Can we take the siblings? How will it affect my immediate and extended family? What happens if they don’t reintegrate? How involved will the placing agency be in our lives?

Kinship Caregivers are an incredibly important part of foster care that are not always discussed. A Kinship Caregiver is a biological relative who is willing to care for a child while they are in the custody of the state. Those Kinship caregivers care for 34% of the children in the state of Kansas who are in foster care. The benefits for children being placed with kinship caregivers include having fewer behavior and mental health problems and having more overall stability in placement (source).

Biological families have 9 months to prepare before a newborn entering their home. Kinship Caregivers do not have this amount of time to prepare. They can have an additional child in their home within days or hours of being removed from their biological family. The moment the family accepts the child and they walk through the door, their entire world changes. They have a new family member they are responsible for in every way. They will have multiple workers coming to their home to ask questions, appointments to schedule, and repeated visits with their biological parents. The kinship caregiver may have challenges: Will they feel comfortable enough to report behaviors after visits? Can they handle the heartbreak from the child after visits? Will they ask permission before the parent attends family activities with the children?

Why does all this matter? I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of caregivers as a previous child welfare worker and am currently working with The Kansas Caregivers Support Network, which provides support for caregivers. As with any parent, support is necessary to be successful. Taking children into a home during a crisis situation can be challenging.

There are many ways to support kinship caregivers as a community! Some examples include:

  • Provide accessible resources for
    • Food
    • Clothing
    • Childcare
    • Transportation
    • Child appropriate toys and activities
  • Just listen… Sometimes the best help can be feeling heard.
  • Making sure they can include all family members in activities or events offered. This can be done by ensuring that children in DCF custody are allowed to be included in the definition of “family” for things like memberships and fees for activities.

The families in our community are important. We can all work together to provide support for those families and children in the foster care system! The Kansas Caregivers Support Network is always available for further assistance and support. To find additional options for support near you, search the Kansas Support Group database here.