The Importance of Kinship Care

(September 11. 2023)

During September, we are celebrating National Kinship Care Awareness Month in recognition of people who selflessly provide a home for children in their lives who are in need of support and protection. It is essential to acknowledge and encourage the considerable contributions of kinship caregivers when children cannot remain safely with their parents. In my blog from July 2023, I discussed that the main goal in child welfare is to keep children at home with their parents and family when at all possible. When this is not possible,the best option is for children to be placed into kinship care with someone they know and trust. According to Casey Family Programs, “There are many benefits to placing children with relatives or other kinship caregivers. Doing so can reduce the trauma children experience from being placed with strangers, reinforce the child’s cultural identity, and maintain family and community connections. Research demonstrates that children placed with kin experience increased stability, improved well-being and behavioral health outcomes, and higher levels of permanency when compared with children placed in foster care with strangers.”

The organization in charge of kinship care placements in Allegheny County is A Second Chance, Inc. (ASCI). They are the only kinship organization in Allegheny County. ASCI has been a national leader in kinship care since 1994 and has serviced over 10,000 kinship caregivers in that time. They are a licensed foster care agency designed to meet the unique needs of kinship care families by providing an array of holistic, values-based services catering specifically to kinship families. I spent about 5 years working at ASCI as a point of contact caseworker, where I worked with kinship caregivers, children, and biological parents to ensure safety while maintaining essential familial connections. I later worked with children in both kinship care and traditional foster care and witnessed the difference in the children that were placed in familiar settings.

I have seen first hand how being placed with kin can minimize the trauma for a child being removed from his or her home. I worked with a 7 year old girl named “Nia” who was removed from her mother and placed with a stranger or traditional foster care. Despite her foster parents being kind and loving, Nia was very scared and cried constantly. Her teachers saw how dramatically this affected her at school. Nia’s guidance counselor stepped up as a kinship foster parent. Nia still missed her mother terribly but she felt so comfortable with her guidance counselor that it significantly decreased her stress and anxiety and she bounced back to the bubbly sweet little girl her teachers once knew. This kinship arrangement also put mom at ease knowing her daughter was with someone they knew. I also worked with two toddlers who had to be removed from their parents’ home at midnight. They were frightened and confused as they were being buckled into the caseworker’s car. The two year old cried until she vomited. Fortunately, the children never had to go into a stranger’s care since the parents were able to identify the maternal grandparents as a kinship option. CYF was able to reach the grandparents and conduct emergency clearances in the wee hours of the morning. The children were taken to their grandparents’ house, where the caseworker reported seeing their tears immediately vanish as they ran to their grandparents’ arms. Their grandparents were able to comfort them and put them in beds that they had slept in before. The next morning, the grandparents were able to call the parents so that they could talk to the toddlers, which was very comforting. If the parents would not have identified the grandparents or if CYF could not get in touch with them, the children would have been placed in a foster home with people they did not know.

The rate of kinship care placements continues to increase but there is still a lot more work that needs to be done to ensure that as many children as possible can be placed with kin when they need to be removed from their parents. One bill that we are keeping a close eye on regarding kinship care is H.B. 1058. House Bill 1058 would make child custody proceedings more inclusive of potential kinship care providers by requiring courts to solicit and consider the kins’ opinions as to why they are a good fit to care for the child. If the courts determine that they are not an appropriate caregiver, the kin can still request visitation or other contact with the child. On June 22, 2023, H.B. 1058 unanimously passed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and was sent to the Senate Aging and Youth Committee. Stay tuned for future blogs for any additional updates on this bill.

Heather Wilkes, Allies for Children Policy Director