Setting Boundaries as a Kinship Provider

Setting boundaries as a kinship provider

Big concepts like love and community are rooted in the idea that we’re willing to help others even when it hurts us. The idea is called altruism, and it’s a big part of what makes a family work. Kinship caregivers, like foster and adoptive parents, are expected to be altruistic. But they face a unique challenge – in order to do what’s best for a child in their care, they often risk damaging their relationship with their own child. Setting boundaries as a kinship provider is a big challenge because when it’s all in the family, doing the right thing can really hurt.

Picture this: Your phone rings unexpectedly late on a weeknight. You pick up and find out it’s
Child Protection and Permanency. They let you know that your daughter, who is in her early 20s, is struggling with an addiction. As a result, her two sons, whom she loves very much, are taken into state custody.

“Would you be willing to take your grandchildren into your home?” they ask.

Without a second thought, you agree and so take the first steps on an intensely personal journey, not knowing when, where or how it might end.

What you do know is that you’ll have to tread carefully – your grandchildren’s future, your daughter’s health and your personal emotional well-being all hinge upon your ability to set boundaries between what everyone wants and what is best for them. Deciding between the two will take a heavy dose of discretion.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help determine how boundaries can be set:

How will I handle seeing my daughter without her child?

Having to take your granddaughter into your custody while your daughter gets back on track can put lots of strain on your relationship. Time normally spent together, like during holidays, can get awkward quick. Outside of mandated visitation, it’s up to you to decide how involved your daughter can be with her child.

Are my kinship children’s parents able to act like the role models my kinship children deserve? Everyone goes through rough patches in life. Some handle them much better than others. If your kinship children’s parents are unable to compose their emotions, it will most likely reflect negatively on your kinship children. Think about the type of behavior that led to your daughter losing custody of your granddaughter. Was she violent? Neglectful? Is she battling an addiction? Different harmful behaviors will mean setting boundaries in different ways. Think also about the episodes in your daughter’s life that may have driven her to the behavior that led to her losing custody. Set boundaries for yourself so that you can avoid those episodes the second time around.

How is my relationship with my daughter?

You can’t choose family. Sometimes the game of chance leaves us with love and friendship that lasts a lifetime and sometimes it presents us with monumental challenges. It won’t be the challenges themselves, but how you handle them, that will help decide the fate of your family. Obviously it’s a big (and very stressful) responsibility, so while doing your best to manage the emotions of both your daughter and your granddaughter, be sure to remember that you cannot please everyone all the time. What you can do, however, is carefully weigh their best interests and act on them to your best ability.

How old are my kinship children and are they on pace developmentally?

For young children, it is your responsibility to make decisions that will set them on a path towards happiness and health. As children become teens and teens approach adulthood, they begin to make their own decisions about how their relationship with their parents will or won’t progress.

Setting boundaries for people you care about will be difficult. Like so much of life, it’s all about balancing short-term comforts and long-term success. If you can get the balance right, your kinship children and their parents will have you to thank for the rest of their lives.  Even if your daughter or granddaughter is unhappy with the process, you can rest assured that you did your best and always kept their best interests in mind.

Author: Thomas Castles, FAFS Communication and Development Associate

2 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries as a Kinship Provider

  1. How do you practically set those boundaries? Do you just say to bio-mom, “its inappropriate to discuss your current birth control with your 7 year old?” Or do you just not answer the phone calls? Or limit them? Or set limits for visiting time? How does that work? Setting boundaries is good, but the practical can be difficult. What are some good strategies? What have people done?

    1. First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to comment on our kinship blog. In New Jersey, there are rules that a kinship caregiver will have to follow according to CP&P policy on discipline, visitation, and rights and responsibilities; however, one of the biggest issues that most kinship caregivers experience is that of setting boundaries. There may be occasions when the parents are hard to deal with or acts irresponsibly during visitation. If a visit is not going well, it is okay to end the visit early. If a parent shows up unexpectedly or unplanned, you have the right to deny the visit. If you continue to experience difficult visitations you may want to speak to the child’s caseworker, Law Guardian, and/or CASA. If the visit is harmful for the child, write a letter to the Judge if necessary. Overall, I would recommend that you stay positive about the parent towards the child and allow the child time after the visit to have some down time to be able to process what went well and what did not. You may also want to keep a visitation log outlining the visitation arrangements (duration, frequency, etc), what were the positives or what were concerns about the timing, interactions or cancellation of visits, etc. This way you have it for your records and can also share it with the caseworker and Law Guardian as well. You always want to make sure to have regular contact with the caseworker about any concerns that you may have so that they can continue to do what is in the child’s best interest. If you reside in NJ, I would recommend that you become integrated in your county’s Connecting Families group, sign up for our Heart to Heart Mentoring Program for additional peer to peer support, and/or reach out to your Family Advocate for your county. I wish you all the best and if you continue to have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach back out to us.

      Jessica Hernandez
      Family Advocate

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