10 Things No One Tells You About Kinship Care

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Years ago, children that are unable to live safely in their home were often sent to foster care. While it was great that they were safe, and with a loving family, this could be traumatizing. The new rules, new family and even new school can be a lot for children to handle. 

In recent years, there has been a shift towards children staying with relatives instead. This is why we see so many grandparents raising their grandchildren now.

Although being removed from their home can still be traumatic, it cushions the blow for children. They are surrounded by familiar faces, and families can rest assured that the little ones are being properly taken care of. 

The outcomes for kinship care are amazing for children. For many children, this means that they have permanency instead of being shuffled from one home to another.

Kids that are in kinship care placements also experience fewer behavioral problems than children that aren’t. You can check out the research to support kinship care, and the reason behind the trend, here. 

Kinship care refers to any child that is living with and being cared for, by relatives or close friends. Close friends are sometimes called fictive kin. (I’m fictive kin because myself and the littlest are not biologically related.)

Sometimes, this means that you have legal custody. Other times, the state agency acquires legal custody and grants a person guardianship. Both situations fall into the kinship care category. 

A Brief History Of Kinship Care And My Family

I won’t tell the world the whole story of my littlest. I’ve always felt that it’s her story, and she can tell people when she’s ready to. However, I do give vague details at times. She is my ex-fiance’s daughter.

When she was unable to live with her mother, she came to live with me. It went from a safety plan to temporary custody, and now legal custody. We had a social worker for almost two years. Kinship care came with one of the biggest learning curves I’ve ever experienced. 

Being A Kinship Carer

I’ve also known several people that are in a similar situation. There are grandparents raising grandchildren all over my city. Let’s not forget the other relatives, too.

For example, there are plenty of aunts or uncles raising nieces and nephews! While kinship care does come with a wealth of benefits, there are a few things you don’t realize until you’ve thrown yourself in the middle of it. 

1. The Family Doesn’t Automatically Blend

When you first take in your niece or grandson, you assume that everyone will mesh. You all get along great at family dinners and enjoy each other. However, that’s a lot different than when they live with you. 

You’ll quickly discover that you have to deal with a lot of the same things that foster parents do. Your biological children may get jealous of the other kids. There may be chaos. Even though you are related, the new members of your household are not used to living with you. 

2. You Do Not Automatically Receive Training

Although some states offer classes for free for kinship carers, and others might offer kinship caregivers the option of taking foster classes, this isn’t always the case.

Most instances that involve kinship care also involve an emergency removal. Sometimes, there simply isn’t time for you to take them beforehand. You also aren’t required to take them, so it might not be on the agenda for your caseworker. 

3. The Children May Have Special Needs You Don’t Realize

When the littlest was being violent, it was viewed as bad behavior. Nothing more. It turns out, she has PTSD. I had to work with a therapist and psychologist to learn how to properly take care of her and address those issues. 

When children come into foster care, those types of things are expected. However, when you have a new household member thanks to kinship care, you don’t realize that in the beginning.

Social workers might not even give you a forewarning about it. You don’t realize that you’re not prepared until those issues arise or worsen, and then you have to hurry up and prepare yourself. It can be stressful, to say the least. 

4. You Still Have To Comply With Visitation And No Contact Orders

While this makes sense, it’s much easier said than done. How do you tell someone that has always been there for you they are no longer allowed in your house?

Or celebrate holidays without your children because they aren’t allowed around your grandchildren? It’s a hard thing to do. Because of this, children in kinship care are more likely to have contact with their biological parents even though they aren’t supposed to. 

This can also bring more chaos and stress into the mix because your entire family can get involved in the situation.

So, when you do stick with those orders as you’re supposed to, you’re trading one stressful situation for another. Always remember that you have to do what is safe for the children, though. 

5. There Are New Rules To Raising Children

While you may have been able to spank the same child before they moved in with you, that isn’t the case when you participate in kinship care.

Corporal punishment can be damaging to all children, but especially children that were previously abused or neglected. You’ll be encouraged or told to follow the same rules as most foster parents do. That means no smacking them for infractions anymore. 

Some caseworkers take this a step further by insisting that you get the parent’s consent before doing certain things, such as letting them get their ears pierced or a haircut. 

6. You Don’t Automatically Have Rights To The Children

Most kinship caregivers will receive guardianship through the state. That means that the state has more power over what happens with the children than you do.

Some agencies are heavily involved. Others will show up once a month and maybe not even then. It tends to be hit and miss. 

Things like visitation are up to the judge, and the person with custody. If you do not have legal custody, you don’t have rights to the children. The state does, and they give you the freedom to choose what you want to do. 

7. There Are A Lot Of Appointments

doctor with mother and child

You think that you know what you’re in for in the beginning. I mean, you take your own children to the doctor, right? Then, your schedule is booked for a month in one day.

The more children there are, the more appointments there are. I found it difficult to find a “real job” and keep up with them all because it was so difficult. 

There were: 

  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Therapy appointments
  • Home visits with the case manager
  • Supervised visits with bio mom
  • Pick ups and drop offs when her father saw her
  • Home visit with the GAL (Guardian Ad Litem)
  • Court hearings
  • Dentist appointments

This doesn’t include all of the other things I had to do, like get fingerprinted to pass a background check, buy something for fire safety, case management meetings (I was invited to those in the beginning).

Needless to say, it is a lot. While I wouldn’t change my situation for the world, I wish I would have known so I would have been better prepared for those two years instead of being thrown into it and having to figure it out. 

8. You Don’t Always Get Assistance In The Beginning

Most foster children are already in the system. It’s standard that foster parents receive a check to spend on clothing or to reimburse them for money they spent. There are clothing pantries for foster parents. They typically start receiving benefits rather quickly. 

This has led to quite a bit of misunderstanding regarding kinship care. Some states are supposed to pay kinship caregivers per day but have refused to. Others do not. This does tend to vary by state, so you’ll have to look that up. 

You also are not eligible to receive benefits through most kinship care programs until you have guardianship or legal custody.

For me, that was almost two years because I had temporary custody. (The state did not have custody, so I was never awarded guardianship.) this might happen quicker for you, but it might not depending on your situation. 

Kinship care incentive programs can also be quite limited. For example, in Ohio, there is a kinship care incentive program that will give you certain allotments at various intervals.

(I was so frustrated with CPS I politely declined, so I don’t know the finer details of it.) After that, you don’t always get more assistance. Hopefully, that will change and they will begin paying kinship caregivers like they do foster parents, though.

However, you’ll have to speak with your case manager to determine what you are, and are not, eligible for. 

9. The Parents Don’t Always Contribute

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s surprisingly common. They might not help you buy the kid’s clothing, even though they know that you’re struggling.

Bitter parents might not even give you their social security number, leaving you to figure it all out with minimal help from a social worker. It’s a hard way to learn that you can’t really depend on anyone else. 

10. It All Gets So Much Better

When you’re in the midst of struggling to keep a job, make it to thirty appointments in a month, and fighting with a social worker, it can be really hard to see the silver lining. However, there will come a time when it will all balance out.

The kids might graduate from therapy, so to speak. Their behavior will slowly improve until they are able to clean their room without having a tantrum.

Slowly, the dust will settle among you and the rest of the family so that you can get along again. It’s all about making it through the tunnel of rain to the rainbow on the other side. There will be days when you’re not sure that you can do that, but you can. 

Kinship care has allowed me to wake up to the sweetest hug every single morning. Third-party legal custody lets me have rights without an agency dictating what I do. It’s turned into a very nice situation.

The behavioral issues slowly balanced out. The appointments got to be fewer and fewer. Now, we enjoy things as we always did before. If you’re in that situation, just know that it gets better, and raising the little ones will make it all worthwhile. 

Resources For Kinship Caregivers

While it might be stressful at first, and there are a lot of kinship caregivers that are exhausted, and reading this, it’s important to realize that there are resources available.

You might not have the same resources that foster parents have, or the same requirements, but you don’t have to blindly feel your way around in the dark either. 

Talk To Job And Family Services

Through a brief talk with the local department of job and family services, I found out that the littlest qualified for TANF. Because it’s a child-only case, my income isn’t taken into consideration.

This is something that people with both guardianship and temporary custody can look into. (My social worker didn’t tell me about this.)

Speak With Providers

If you don’t know what to do, and there might be times that you don’t, speak with their pediatrician or therapist. The littlest had a therapist that also was a foster parent, so she had so much experience and wisdom to bring into conversations. It really helped me. 

Pediatricians can give exceptional parenting advice. They might be able to prescribe medication to help with behavioral problems. You can reach out to them about any concerns that you’re having, even if your little one isn’t necessarily sick. 

Online Training Courses

A lot of people have seen the gap when comparing foster care to kinship care. While kinship care has better outcomes for children, caregivers also have fewer resources. That’s why some organizations are striving to help close that gap. 

https://www.aecf.org/blog/training-series-coping-with-the-unique-challenges-of-kinship-care

The link above is a series of online training courses that are designed specifically for kinship caregivers and the unique challenges that they face. They handle everything from guilt regarding the changing family dynamics to common questions and answers. 

Online Forums Offer Support

When you’re dealing with something that can get as messy as kinship care, it’s nice to have support. I haven’t been able to find a lot of online forums, but there are quite a few people that post their kinship care questions on adoption.com.

FAQs

How long does kinship care last?

Can I Kick My 16 Year Old Out?

It varies based on the case. Some placements will last until the child turns 18. Others might only last a few months. The first goal is always reunification. Then, when the parent’s rights are terminated, they will consider you keeping the child until they are of legal age. 

Do you get paid for kinship care?

Yes, in a sense. Some states pay per day as they do with foster care. Others have a kinship care incentive program that will give you a specified amount of money every few months or so.

Most children will qualify for state benefits as well. However, it can take some time to be eligible for those benefits. 

What’s the difference between kinship care and fostering?

Kinship is a term that is used when a family member or close friend is caring for the child. There are different requirements, different benefits, and different rules.

When fostering, the state always has custody. In some kinship cases, a third party can be granted legal custody. You may also be granted guardianship. Either way, you are still considered a kinship caregiver. 

Who is eligible for kinship care?

Any close family member or a person close to the child that is in good health, able and willing to provide for the child, and that passes the kinship care assessment process. If you would like to do kinship care, reach out to the social worker to inquire about a kinship care placement. 

How does kinship care work?

In most situations, the state will have legal custody of the child and then place them with kin. Third-party legal custody is another route to kinship care, but this is significantly less common. Either way, you have to pass the kinship care assessment in order to qualify for kinship care. 

In Conclusion

Kinship care is like the messy animal version of foster care. While it has better outcomes for the children, a lot of kinship caregivers don’t receive the support that they should, leaving them feeling burnt out and exhausted. Sometimes, it can be helpful to know what you’re getting into before doing it. 

Personally, even if I had known all of this beforehand, I would still choose to raise the littlest.

However, I would have been able to plan things better. I wouldn’t have constantly felt like I was being thrown into the abyss without a map, and it would have made things a little bit easier. 

I do realize that most of this list is more about the cons of kinship care. However, that’s because I know all about the positives. Social workers told me about those. I read about them.

Finding the cons of kinship care isn’t as easy, and no one told me about them until I discovered them myself. So, please don’t misinterpret this article as me trying to turn anyone away from kinship care.

Instead, it’s meant to inform so that you know what you’re doing, and can make your own map to get through it. 

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!