May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize the role we can each play in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care. It’s also a time to acknowledge the many foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals and other members of the community who are already doing their part to support these children.
Included in this group is a very special type of foster parent: kinship caregivers. Often, when a child enters foster care, child welfare agencies will first turn to that child’s relatives for placement. This is done in an attempt to help the child maintain important connections with his or her family. With the theme for this year’s National Adoption Month being It’s All Relative: Supporting Kinship Connections, now is a time to celebrate and support these family members who step forward when a child’s parents are unable to care for them.
Here are five things you should know about kinship foster care this National Foster Care Month:
1. There are two types of kinship care.
Some children may be placed with their relatives privately (informal kinship care), while others are formally placed in kinship care by a child welfare agency (public kinship care or kinship foster care). Informal kinship care arrangements may or may not involve legal processes (like a temporary guardianship) to recognize the caregiver’s role and are often done before a local child welfare agency becomes involved.
Relatives may also have the opportunity to permanently adopt the children in their care if their parents’ rights are legally terminated. For grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives raising children informally, a formal relative adoption may provide their family with more permanency and stability.
2. Relatives are usually given preference in foster care placements.
Child welfare agencies attempt to place children with biological relatives whenever possible. This is done in the child’s best interest to help ease the transition of being removed from their home and their parents.
Research suggests that children in kinship care are often better able to adjust to their new environment, less likely to experience school or behavioral problems, and less likely to be moved than children in non-relative foster homes.
3. Kinship care is common.
An estimated 2.7 million children — 4 percent of all kids in the U.S. — are being raised by grandparents or other kinship caregivers. One-quarter of children in foster care are placed with relatives, and it’s estimated that many more children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives outside of the foster system.
4. Resources are available to relative caregivers.
Like any other foster family, relative caregivers are often eligible for financial assistance through their child welfare agency, as well as services like therapy and counseling, respite care and more. If you are currently raising a grandchild, niece, nephew or other relative in your home, talk to your caseworker about these services, and take advantage of the resources that are available to you!
5. Kinship foster families need support, too.
With so many children being raised by relatives other than their biological parents, chances are you may know someone in your own community who is currently raising a child in kinship care. Like anyone raising a child, these caregivers deal with the same kind of emotional, financial and physical stress — but it’s often amplified because of the unique situation their child is in.
The next time you speak with a kinship caregiver, take the time to offer them support in whatever way you can. Perhaps cook them a meal, or offer childcare services so they can have an evening to their selves. Find local support groups for kinship caregivers, and support them with donations.
If you are raising a relative in your home, seek out local support groups and online support groups to connect with others in similar situations. It can be lonely to be a kinship caregiver, but learning from others can make the process a little easier.
Remember, children are placed into the custody of kinship caregivers for many reasons — whether by parents themselves or through a child welfare agency. Celebrating the work of these caregivers is an important part of understanding the many types of families in the world and the love that connects us all.