Foster care or kinship care is a special type of caregiving scenario where the children who can’t stay with their biological parents can stay with their grandparents or relatives when they are at an age where they can’t take care of themselves. Sometimes biological parents may jeopardise the safety and mental health of their kids without themselves realising it. This is when moving the kids away from home is needed. However, no parents want to permanently separate the children from themselves. If a couple is having trouble in their relationship or are separating, they can consider kinship care for their children.
What Is Kinship Care?
Kinship care refers to a form of care for children where the guardians of children, other than their parents step in and take custody of the children. Sometimes parents fail to provide the proper care to their kids which is when homecare services steps in, evaluates and moves kids to foster care. In most cases, the arrangements for kinship care are made informally between the parents and relatives. In most cases of kinship care, the caregivers are grandparents but kinship carers could also be uncles, aunts, distant relatives, family friends, and even neighbours.
Types of Kinship Care
Kinship care providers are the unsung heroes of society. Behind the walls, if abuse or neglect goes on, social workers take note and are there for kids. Having a healthy childhood is crucial to growing up and becoming a mature and responsible adult. Dysfunctional households do not provide a good environment for this which is why kinship care can be a blessing.
There are mainly three types of kinship care—informal, voluntary, and formal. We’ll discuss them below along with a few other types as well.
1. Informal Kinship Care
Informal kinship care is when biological parents decide to keep their children with their relatives or friends. In this case, they do not lose custody of the child but relocate them to a different environment since they can’t take care of the kids themselves. Reasons, why they do this, could be that they might be terminally ill, staying overseas, or must be in a condition that affects them from taking care of the kids well at home.
2. Formal Kinship Care
Formal kinship care refers to a situation where the state intervenes with the family after reviewing reports by childcare services. This happens when a social worker notes any neglect or abuse happening to the child inside the family. The kids feel traumatized and unable to report the situation which is when social workers record evidence and log the incidences. This is then handed over to the court where the case is reviewed. When a decision has been made, the court summons a distant relative or someone in the family’s circle, excluding the biological parents, and hands custody of the child to them legally until they turn 18 years of age.
3. Voluntary Kinship Care
This is a type of kinship care where the parents choose to cooperate with state authorities and surrender their children. They will still have legal custody of the kids in this case but the child will be living with the relatives instead.
4. Kinship Legal Guardianship
This is when complete custody of the children is transferred over to the relatives. This is where the foster parents take on full responsibility for the child’s welfare, education, and overall wellbeing. This type of kinship has major consequences for parents since they may or may not even lose visitation rights depending on their actions. The court reviews their behaviour and later decides whether to give the custody or not.
Benefits of Kinship Care
Providing the proper care and resources to children entails a lot of challenges from the foster parents’ end but the results are worth it. When children grow up and look back, they realize that they’ve had a childhood because of their foster parents. There are numerous benefits to kinship adoption which are often overlooked. They are as follows:
1. It offers emotional stability.
Most kids in kinship fostering have experienced emotional stability in their new homes. If a child has stayed in a hostile environment before, the shift to foster homes is a welcome change and like a fresh breath of air.
2. Kids are able to focus on their academics.
Kids are able to focus on schooling and adjust to a new way of life. Sometimes they enjoy a new level of freedom in their new homes and they are able to focus better on their studies, which helps improve their grades too. Improved mental health and a positive upbringing by foster care parents prove to be beneficial for children.
3. It improves the relationship with parents.
Children who are allowed to interact with their parents on holidays, vacations, or on special days of the year, tend to have an improved relationship with their parents. The distance and time spent away from their former homes end up emotionally healing them and making them feel good. Children also report feeling more loved and accepted in their new homes. It reflects in their school life as the behavioural problems previously exhibited decrease or no longer resurface.
4. Children get to stay with their guardians.
Kinship care is a lot better than handing children over to the state authorities. Children who have had a rough beginning in life find themselves faring better in placements within a family’s circle instead of being under the state’s jurisdiction.
5. Children don’t experience trauma.
Children who move away from their parents face a certain sense of loss. If kids are removed from their siblings, friends, grandparents and other relatives, they end up losing everything and may get traumatized. Kinship care prevents this and makes them feel stable by simply moving them away from parents to siblings or relatives.
6. Children form better relations with people living nearby.
Children living in foster homes build community connections and feel more immersed in the family culture. They develop emotionally healthy relationships with their loved ones and make new friends too. Siblings who live together in foster homes have been shown to develop stronger bonds as well.
Financial Assistance for Kinship Caregivers
Taking care of a child strains a family financially. When a guardian accepts the kinship order, he/she is taking on a lot of responsibility. As such, there are various programs that offer financial assistance to kinship caregivers. Keep in mind that the kinship care requirements for being eligible for these programs will vary from state-to-state.
- KEEP (Keeping Foster and Kin Parents Supported and Trained) – This is an evidence-based kinship parenting program for foster programs. It focuses on skill enhancement and includes various incentives related to childcare and support.
- KCSP (Kinship Caregivers Support Program) – This program is available in Washington D.C, and provides direct financial assistance to eligible kinship families.
- TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) – A program designed for low-income households who require financial assistance to fulfil a child’s basic needs. They mostly provide short-term support lasting up to 60 months. The eligibility requirements for this program vary from state-to-state.
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – This program provides food stamps to families who are taking on additional children in their household.
- CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) – This program mostly covers health insurance for kids. It also funds vaccinations, immunizations, and even covers pregnant women. It provides affordable health insurance coverage to families who do not qualify for Medicaid in the United States.
How Can Relatives Hold a Kinship Guardianship?
Relatives can hold a kinship guardianship by first applying for it. They must get in touch with the Department of Human Services and contact the Kinship Navigator Program by dialling 877-816-3211. The Kinship Navigator Program will assign one of their four regional agencies to the family for an assessment after which a court action can be filed. The guardianship process will be formally completed after that.
Kinship care can mean the world for children who have a hard time staying at home with their biological parents. It could also help out parents who struggle to meet their children’s needs and have to keep their children in the care of relatives or family friends. It’s not a black and white case and kids who stay in foster homes grow up to be healthy and thrive as adults later on.