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Kinship care: Proactively addressing systemic racism in child welfare

September 3, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was written by Karissa Phelps, a Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow working with Temple Legal Aid.
Across the nation, Black families are torn apart by the child welfare system more frequently than white families experiencing similar levels of abuse or neglect.

Government intervention to separate parents and children is one of the highest forms of power exerted over the individual and undermines one’s sense of security and personal identity at a fundamental level. The disproportionate deconstruction of Black families involved in child welfare paints a quantifiable picture that our systems treat Black families and Black familial ties as less worthy of protection.

Using kinship placements, or “kinship care,” when the removal of children from their parents cannot be avoided, offers a secondary safeguard to maintaining family connectivity. Kin are relatives and family friends with whom the child already has a relationship. Extensive research indicates that children experience better outcomes when placed with kin. By keeping children within their family and community circles, we can counteract the inherent racism in a system that routinely undermines strong Black families and strong Black identity.

Increasingly, child welfare law affirms the vital role of kin, as the recent mandate to prioritize kinship placements demonstrates. However, the unique needs of kinship caregivers require treatment that differs from that of general foster parents to support success and prevent disruption. Here are a few practical considerations for creating and strengthening kinship placements.

Kin have distinct needs from non-kinship foster parents.

Unlike those who consciously sign up to become foster parents, most kin do not plan in advance to assume this role. Kin are responding to the real and emergent needs of parents and children whom they care about and love. In light of the often unplanned nature of their involvement with the child welfare system, kinship caregivers need additional, tailored support to meet their needs.

Kin need clear, upfront information about the process, roles, and responsibilities of caregivers, caseworkers, and attorneys.

We cannot assume kin know or understand the foster care system. Their decision to welcome a child into their home is often made in the context of a crisis. They are seldom well-informed about the complexities of the system, which can cause frustration and miscommunication for both kin and caseworkers. Kin should be well-equipped to evaluate their capacity to comply with foster care requirements at the outset, thereby preventing disruptions in placement later on.

From our Partners

Support groups for kinship caregivers are desperately needed.

The responsibility of full-time caregiving and compliance with foster care requirements can result in a dramatic shift in priorities and lifestyle for kin. Many kin lose the support of loved ones and friends who do not understand their decisions or sudden lack of time. Feelings of isolation, ambivalence, anger, grief, and guilt are normal for kin to experience. In addition, because kin often have a relationship to both the parents and the child, they must deal with the underlying issues and stress that led to a child’s removal. Support groups or family navigators can offer essential assistance and encouragement for kinship caregivers.

Kin should be offered opportunities to support the family beyond an official placement.

There are many reasons why kin cannot become a child’s primary caregiver, including health concerns, housing issues, or an inability to pass licensing requirements, among others. However, kin are often eager and able to extend support in other essential ways, including providing transportation to school and appointments, assisting with homework and activities, celebrating special occasions, offering babysitting or respite for a child’s primary caregiver, or helping parents get the services they need to stay connected to their children. All families need a support system, and cultivating natural kinship supports can contribute to a family’s long-term success, stability, and sense of identity.

By acknowledging that kin face unique stressors, providing kin with clear information and assistance, and expanding the supportive role that kin play in the child welfare system, we can bolster the success of kinship placements — affirming existing family connections and proactively combatting the systemic deconstruction of the Black family.

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