We often talk about the hardships children face while in foster care, and they are important to address. But what about what the resource parents have to endure – specifically kinship caregivers? What do you do when fostering family members changes your life – for better or worse?
We love our families and, no doubt, want to see them succeed and be the best they can be. But let’s face it – life happens, and sometimes our family makes decisions that leave us to pick up the pieces. In terms of foster care, relatives are considered first when it comes to placing abused and neglected children in safe and loving homes. It’s believed that children flourish when they are raised by those closest to them.
Relatives have been providing kinship care way before the term even existed. Long before the child welfare system began to reach out to relatives to provide foster care, grandparents have been taking care of grandchildren, aunts and uncles have been taking caring of nieces and nephews and so on. It’s our natural reaction to protect our loved ones from pain.
Fostering Family Members: “What About Me?”
What happens, though, when you come to the rescue over and over again for your family? How much can — or should — you endure while your relative continues to make decisions that change the course of your life? Who wouldn’t feel frustration if a sister or daughter, for example, that struggles with addiction continues to have children she is unable to care for?
You may not see your relative for a lengthy period of time only to receive a call that she is giving birth to another child addicted to drugs. You already have some of her children in your home, and you now have to prepare for another. It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re being used. If unchecked, however, that feeling can develop into a bitterness that will negatively affect your life as well as those closest to you.
The good news is that admitting the frustration that comes along with caring for your family member’s children does not in any way diminish the love you have for your family. It simply acknowledges you want more – for them and you – and that’s OK. Frustration is normal as long as it doesn’t cause harm to your relationship with your relatives in care and change the way you provide for them.
“What about me?” is a question you are allowed to ask. It doesn’t make you selfish but self-aware. If you don’t take care of yourself, how will you be able to take care of others? You are just as important. Make sure to make time for yourself and seek out help when needed.
Kinship licensed resource parents across the U.S. can access services through the National Foster Parent Association; in New Jersey, services are available through Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS). For all kinship caregivers who are not licensed, you can contact your state’s Department of Human Services for assistance. If you are a kinship caregiver in New Jersey that is not licensed, there are services available to you via the Kinship Navigator program.
FAFS offers a course to kinship licensed resource parents in New Jersey called Issues in Kinship Care. In addition to helping you help your relative in care and providing advice on possibly dealing with angry biological parents, it has great tips like, “Give yourself permission to need something.” Remember, there is help out there for every situation. More than anything, it’s important you know that you are not alone.
Fostering Family Members: Your New Normal
The life you are experiencing now may not be what you anticipated. No matter how difficult the situation can be, there is great reward in providing a better life for your relatives. Your nights have changed from quiet and peaceful dinners to the sounds of children dropping spoons or teens texting – it’s your new normal. The choice you made to break the cycle of abuse and neglect within your family will be well worth it; the legacy of your love will impact your family for generations to come.
Salendria Mabrey is a Communication and Development Associate at Foster and Adoptive Family Services.