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

8 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

  2. My husband and I were granted temporary custody of my great niece after her mom attempted to drop her from a second story balcony. Baby was 7 weeks old at the time, now 9 months. My niece was arrested and released several weeks later. There has been a no contact order set for her. I have explained it to her, so has DCS, her attorney and the judge. For whatever reason she thinks I have some control over this. She believes that I can just have it removed. I have had to just be very firm with her and let her know that if she comes to my home, I will call the authorities. Mom has been in jail 6 times since April and is now at a residential rehab facility. Still, the no contact order is in place. I can send pictures but she wants to “talk” to the baby. I have been told that I cannot allow her to talk to baby.
    Anyhow, it’s been an ordeal, and we are all adjusting to our new normal. Mom knows what I will and will not do, but it doesn’t stop the nagging. So when she calls and has a bad attitude towards me, I just hang up. Sometimes she will call back and other times she won’t. I just refuse to be used as a punching bag. I didn’t cause this situation, she did. So the rules she has to follow are just that….hers! I do love her and am hoping she can get to a point mentally that she can be a part of baby’s life, but I just don’t see her ever being able to care for her on her own. Boundaries are set, and it is what it is.

  3. I know this is an old thread, but having trouble finding any kinship related help. I am in the process of my sister turning custody over to me through fostering via the state. I am wondering how and if the dynamic should change. I want him to have his mother in his life, but I’m not sure its in his best interest. He is only 6 and does call me mom, which my 6 year old daughter does NOT appreciate. I also feel I am just letting her off the hook by saying well you haven’t made any changes, but can still see him (even though the have a great time) I am torn and any advice would help. This is my twin sister, the kids are 11 days apart 🙂
    Thank you

    1. Jennifer,
      Thank you for reaching out to embrella. Taking in your nephew in is obviously going to change the dynamic. By you being awarded KLG, you are now the PRIMARY caregiver for this child. By nature of the situation and you providing him with a safe, stable and loving home he is naturally going to feel that you are more of a mother to him that his own, especially if he has been with you for an extended amount of time. I would let the child lead on what he is comfortable calling you. If it does cause a lot of disruptions with your daughter, reassuring her that she is still your daughter and that you love her. She is not being replaced and there is room in your heart for your nephew too. If it makes everyone feel better, you could always have him call you “Mama Jennifer” or something along those lines if he still wants to call you mom.
      By entering KLG you are not letting the mother off the hook. There will still be boundaries and she has to respect your time, space and rules. The courts may put in a minimum visitation schedule or they may leave it to your discretion. You know your sister and will be able to make the determination of when visits are either being helpful or harmful. Reminding both your sister and your nephew that you are not there to take away their relationship, she will always be his mom, but that you are there to provide where she cannot.

      Lenore Bonilla
      Support Services Manager

    2. I have had such a difficult time finding kinship support and advice. So thank you to anyone who reads this and has any bit of advice. 2 in a half years ago my husbands aunt had her two boys removed by cps. Addiction being the reason. The boys are 8 and 7 now and parental rights were finally severed. We will get the boys in just a few days and we are already overwhelmed by the thought of navigating this all with my husbands grandma and the boys mom. We all live in different states so surprise drop ins or family functions shouldnt be a problem. However, mom is expecting us to have them call her regularly. Their grandma is extremely enabling to their mother and she is very intrusive. She is already wanting to plan a visit here. My husband and i arent comfortable with contact with their mom as she is still struggling with addiction. And my husbands grandma wont take “we want at least 6 months to get dialed in before visitors ” for an answer. What do we do? How do we set boundaries? Is it healthy for them to have contact with bio mom even if she is using? Is it healthy for them to have no contact so we can establish our family dynamic? We are so torn and so lost….

  4. I have had informal custody of my 6 yr old step grandson for approx 2 yrs. The 1st year he had very little contact with his parents. For the last 10 months he’s been seeing them regularly since they both have over a yr clean and are “getting it together “. My issue is after visits his behavior is atrocious. Can you help me have strategy to keep my sanity and also make it easier on him.

  5. Hello. Do you have any resources or a list of suggestions for how to set up some boundaries in advance for kinship adoptions when you expect to have occasional contact in the future? For example, how would you suggest the best way to respectfully ask a bio parent (your sibling) not tell the child to call them mom or dad after the adoption is finalized? Kiddo is young now but this could be confusing for the adoptive parent while establishing role as mom or dad.

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