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What is kinship care?

Portrait of grandmother and granddaughter embracing at the beach

Kinship care is when a relative provides care or guardianship to a child or youth, like when a grandchild lives with their grandparents. Kinship caregivers can also be people who are not related by blood but who have close and important relationships with a child.

You can become a kinship caregiver through informal agreements or formal processes:

  • Informal kinship care means that you have come to an arrangement with other family members. A child welfare agency was not involved.
  • On the other hand, if a child enters the child welfare system, you work with their caseworker to become their kinship caregiver.

In fact, 34% of children and youth in foster care are placed with kinship caregivers, according to the most recent government data.

Whether you’re already caring for a relative or have just started looking into the process, you’ve come to the right place. This article explains the benefits children and youth experience when living with relatives. It also describes the support services available to kinship caregivers.

Benefits of kinship care for children and youth

While it will certainly promise moments of joy, kinship care can also be challenging. You likely did not expect to step into this role, and you may have questions about what this will mean for you and your family. It might help to understand the benefits that your care will provide.

To that end, studies have looked into and supported what many intuitively feel: that staying with a family member or close adult, when possible, is best for a child’s well-being.

When children and youth in foster care live with kin, they have better outcomes across various factors. We name just a few below:

  • Cultural ties: Living with a relative or other important person keeps cultural ties and traditions within a child’s life. An article on the Juvenile Law Center’s website explains that kinship care is crucial to racial equity and that many Native and Black families have created kinship networks and communities.
  • Mental health: A child or youth’s mental health benefits. According to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, “there is strong evidence that children in kinship foster care have fewer behavioral problems and fewer mental health problems than children in non-kinship foster care.”
  • Sense of belonging: Kinship placements help with a child’s sense of belonging. All youth who experience foster care have been affected by the trauma of being separated from their families. This can lead to self-doubt and feelings of rejection. When kin take a child into their care, these feelings lessen.

Finding support as a kinship caregiver

With the benefits shown, you may feel more encouraged about taking on this role and curious about the support you can expect.

One of the biggest barriers that kinship caregivers face is finding the right support. Historically, there have been disparities between the support given to kin versus non-related foster and adoptive parents. That is starting to change. Still, support will vary based on your location.

The good news is that there are often services available and you can research the supports in your area. For formal kinship care, contact your caseworker or child welfare agency to learn about their services.

We’ve listed some examples of support services below:

  • Kinship navigators: Many states have kinship navigator programs. Navigators help you find resources, access benefits, and connect with support groups. In this video from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, kinship caregivers talk about the support they’ve received from navigators, such as with financial assistance for heating. Find a list of kinship navigator programs across the country at the Grandfamilies and Kinship Support Network website.
  • Support groups and peer support: Sharing your experiences—the joys, fears, struggles, and lessons learned—with people in a similar situation can be healing and helpful as you parent.
  • Financial support: If you’re currently going through the placement process, your local child welfare agency may have financial support set aside to help you. For example, there may be funds available for preparing your home. After placement, agencies may also provide financial support. Be sure to look into benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), to see if you’re eligible.

Further reading about kinship care

  • An AdoptUSKids interview with Tawanna Brown discusses how her life changed after Tawanna’s grandmother adopted her and her siblings. “We knew we were safe. My grandmother took in all five of us so we wouldn’t be separated, and I adore her for that.”
  • Kinship care and the child welfare system” is a factsheet from Child Welfare Information Gateway made for families like yours. You’ll find information about the different kinds of kinship care, how to access services, and what to expect when interacting with the court system.

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