Today, children entering foster care are often placed in the homes of family members or family friends instead of traditional foster families. Is kinship foster care better than sending abused and neglected children to live with strangers?
Up until a few years ago, children who could not live safely with their birth parents mainly went to live in “stranger” foster care – the home of a person or people unknown to the child. Lately, the trend has turned to placing these children in kinship foster care – the home of a family member or family friend. There are many reasons for this change.
Pros of Kinship Foster Care
When children go into traditional foster care, there are new parents; new rules; new neighbors; often a new school; and sometimes, new siblings, if the foster parents have children of their own or other foster children in the home. These changes, even when they are positive over time, are often traumatic for children in care.
Placement into kinship foster care can soften the blow for these already traumatized children. Whether it’s a beloved grandmother, a best friend’s parents, a caring teacher or even a distant cousin who believes in keeping the family together, the less disrupted the positive aspects of the child’s life can be, the better.
When children enter foster care, they often lose everything they’ve ever known or loved. Depending on their age and situation, they may lose contact with other family members, including siblings.
It can be comforting for children to hear stories about their parents from someone who knows them. A grandmother may be able to reassure a child in care that his mother loves him, but is unable to take care of him, in a very real way.
Cons of Kinship Foster Care
Imagine having to tell your daughter that she can’t see her own child, or that she is unwelcome in your home. That’s what grandparents raising grandchildren often have to do.
Because of the emotional connection to the birth parent, kinship caregivers may have more difficulty in enforcing the child welfare designated rules about contact with the child than a traditional foster parent. To help them better prepare for these situations, grandparents raising grandchildren can take free foster parent training courses on issues in kinship care, which are offered for free in some states, like New Jersey.
Because they are abused and neglected, foster children often have special needs that kinship caregivers may not be aware of or understand. In some cases, what grandparents or other kinship foster care givers may see as simply “bad behavior” may be physical or psychological issues that need to be addressed.
Luckily, there are resources that can help. There are a number of free foster parent training courses that kinship caregivers can take to help them overcome these challenges and assist the children in their home.
When family members take in a child, they are expected to follow certain rules that may not have been issues for them when the child was living with his birth parents. A swat on the bottom when a child goes to stick his finger in a socket, or even something as simple as giving the child a haircut, is now forbidden. Some family members may have difficulty accepting these restrictions.
Kinship care providers take children into their homes purely based on emotion; in most cases, they don’t have time to make the conscious decision to parent these children that foster parents do. There is still a need for traditional foster families, who will always be the safety net for abused and neglected children who have no relatives willing or able to take them in, or who need special medical attention that requires certification. But grandparents raising grandchildren and other kinship foster care providers can be a comfort to kids who have lost so much that was familiar and who long for roots and a place to call home.