When a child is placed within the foster care system, typically biological family or kinship placement is sought for them. What many people don’t realize is that a kinship placement does not always have to be a relative. Sometimes kinship care can be provided by a close family friend or a child’s teacher, for example. Anyone who has a relationship with the child and his or her family can be considered a kinship placement.
Typically, prior to a placement with a foster family, social workers will work with biological parents to try to place children in a kinship situation. Family members and close friends can be sought out as potential placements. These people would have to indicate a willingness to care for the child and to abide by the guidelines that social workers and judges put forth regarding the child’s case. In some instances, kinship caregivers are required to attend training and classes in order to be considered as a placement option. Often, these classes can be attended while a child is placed in their care, as situations don’t often allow for advanced training. If a kinship caregiver attends all required classes and training and becomes a licensed foster parent for their area, they may be entitled to more help with the child placed in their care.
Do I Get Financial Assistance in Kinship Foster Care?
While many areas provide some help for kinship placements, it is often on a lesser scale than the help they provide foster families. Monthly stipends to help offset costs are often reduced for kinship care. Because a kinship placement is one that has a previous relationship between the caregiver and the family, it is often easier for the kinship placement to acquire some of the child’s belongings rather than needing to purchase additional items.
Some areas do offer monthly assistance, along with one-time cost reimbursements. For example, there may be a specific amount that can be used toward the purchase of a bed/bedding, or toward child care costs. There may be amounts for initial clothing expenses or for specific items needed that the kinship placement may not have. There may be help with medical and prescription costs, as well as any daycare costs. This help is provided for foster care placements and in some areas, for kinship placements. To find out what assistance you can receive as a kinship provider, be sure to ask your local agencies.
However, typically when a kinship caregiver provides care, they are not given the same amount of financial help as a licensed foster parent.
Why Kinship Foster Care?
Kinship care is preferred over foster care whenever possible. It is best for a child to be placed with a relative or family friend to minimize trauma to them. It is healthier for a child to be placed with someone with whom they have had a prior relationship, rather than an unknown household. It is also a comfort to parents when they have a prior relationship with the caregiver of their child. It is frightening for all involved when the placement is in a foster home that is unknown to the family. Taking away the stranger anxiety from an already stressful and frightening situation can lessen the traumatic impact on a child who is being separated from their parents.
In some areas, providing kinship care is easier than in others. The requirements that a provider must meet are dependent on area regulations. When kinship care must meet the same requirements that licensed foster care providers must meet, it can be an extra challenge. Some areas do require kinship placements to work toward a foster care license during the placement. Again, this varies by state and local agencies.
Kinship Foster Care Licensing
Licensed foster care providers must meet many guidelines and regulations in order to foster children. They must prove financial stability, be able to provide a certain amount of space for each child, have home inspections, pass background checks, and attend training.
When a kinship placement is held to the same standards, it may be hard for a relative or friend of the family to meet requirements. This doesn’t mean a child would not be safe when placed in the home, however, these guidelines can sometimes prevent the kinship placements. It can be very difficult for all involved when there is a caregiver willing to help but they do not meet all of the requirements to do so. Each state and each county will have its own set of requirements, so be sure to check with your local social services department if you are hoping to provide care. When kinship requirements are as strict as fostering requirements, some relative or friend caregivers become intimidated by the process and give up. Opening yourself up to such scrutiny when trying to help someone can feel like a lot to deal with.
When you are a licensed foster parent, you are prepared for the guidelines and laws. You have had time to adjust to requirements and modify your home and lifestyle to accommodate bringing extra children into your home. You have agreed to visitation schedules and social worker visits.
When a placement is a kinship placement, some of the requirements can feel very overwhelming. If a friend has had their children removed from their home and you want to volunteer to help care for the child, it can feel overwhelming to have your life and your home scrutinized by social workers. And while social workers are not there to judge your dirty dishes or if your coffee table has been cobbled together, it can be scary to invite them into your home in such an unexpected way. Sometimes kinship caregivers begin to worry that their homes will be judged and that they may possibly lose their own children in the process of trying to help.
There should really be no fear of this happening. The basic requirements are that of a safe place for a child to reside. A social worker doesn’t come to inspect a home with a white glove on, looking for perfection. Their goal is to find the child a safe spot to land while their parents work on regaining placement. The best situation is to place a child with a relative or family friend to minimize the trauma of being removed from their home. If all adults in the household can pass a background check, if there is a place for the child to sleep, and basic care can be provided, you will likely qualify as a kinship placement.
Kinship placements can be out of the immediate area where parents reside. Sometimes, children will be placed with relatives or friends in different counties or even different states. When there is a great distance in the placement, it can be more difficult to maintain adequate visitation or contact with the child’s parents. It can be a challenge to their case to have the children a great distance away. Some parents still prefer this over an unknown foster placement to minimize stress on themselves and their children.
Who Can Do Kinship Foster Care?
Any adult that has a relationship with the child and family can be considered for kinship care. If you are aware of a family that is struggling with placement, you may be able to help. Teachers, school employees, coaches, and friends can all be considered as kinship care providers.
Most common providers for kinship care include relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Grandparents are the most common kinship placements, and there are even support groups for grandparent caregivers.
Many times, kinship providers take on the role with impulsivity and may not think about all the responsibility that comes with the kinship role. The ability to provide 24/7 care for a child is needed. At times, one may think they can provide care, only to find out that it is more than they can handle. This is something to really consider when contemplating if you want to provide kinship care. Can you fit this child or children into your daily schedule? Can you provide care for them, get them to and from school, provide daycare for them if you work, and accommodate any visitation schedule they may need? These are areas where it can be nice to have some help from social services in the form of reimbursements for costs like daycare, or for gas to and from visits or school.
How Does Social Services Choose Who to Contact?
When a child is removed from their home by social services, parents can give names and contact information for any relative or family friend (kinship provider options) they would feel comfortable with having placement of their child or children. There are rules and timelines in place for these potential kinship placements to be contacted and to decide if they are an option as a resource. A child may be placed in an emergency placement home during this time if an immediate kinship placement is not available. Most emergency placement homes are not long-term foster care providers, and they typically only foster for short terms. They can take on a longer placement if kinship care is not available, and if they feel comfortable doing so if the caseworker agrees.
I can recall my parents being asked to provide kinship care for a relative. At the time, the child had been in an emergency foster placement for longer than expected, and that home was willing to take care of the child until the case closed. Because the child was already forming bonds with the foster family after several months with them, and because the child was very young and didn’t have any bond with us, we chose to allow the child to remain with the foster family.
I know not everyone would agree with that. Many feel children should be placed with relatives over foster families no matter what. However, in this case, the foster family had bonded with the child over several months, the child was very young, and the foster family could continue regular visits with the biological parents more frequently than our family would have been able to. In this case, we felt the right thing to do was to leave the child in their current placement.
Can I Say No to Fostering as a Relative or Friend?
I bring this example up to remind potential caregivers that they do have options. If you are asked to be a kinship provider, are qualified, but just don’t feel that it is something you want to do, you can choose not to. Taking on the full-time care of a child or siblings is work. It will take a toll on your family to bring in more kids, and it isn’t always an easy thing to do. It is a big commitment. If it feels too overwhelming, you are able to remove yourself as an option. This isn’t something that should be taken lightly, and should not be done out of obligation or loyalty to a child’s parents. If the addition of another child would be too much, it is okay to say no.
On the other hand, if you know someone who is going through a hardship and you want to help out, be sure to offer. Sometimes parents may feel embarrassed or afraid to ask friends and family if they can help out with their children during these times. Fear of being judged for finding themselves in a tough spot, as well as fear of being told no may keep them from reaching out. So, if you are willing to help someone when needed, reach out and let them know you are willing and able to provide a kinship placement.
Kinship placements do not have to occur through the foster care system. Sometimes kids live in a kinship home without foster care or social services being involved. This is a voluntary kinship placement. People often don’t realize that this type of arrangement is a kinship arrangement.
Many of us know of a child in a kinship placement. There are plenty of children who are living with a relative or friend caregiver without parents in the home. Again, grandparents are most often the caregivers in these situations. But it could be a cousin who is staying with their Aunt and Uncle for a time, or it could be non-relative family friend caring for all the children while their parents deal with some things. Kinship placements can be short term, or longer term, depending on the situation. The expected time frame is important to consider when deciding if being a kinship provider is the right choice for you and your family.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.