Kinship care is commonly defined as the full-time care, nurturing, and protection of a child by individuals who already have a connection with that child. Kinship can include relatives and non-relatives – grandma, aunt, uncle, teacher, neighbor, or family friend. Those families who have chosen to be a kinship placement and eventual adoptive family have found that there have been support from many sources along the way which have assisted in successful, healthy transitions for the children in their care. Three of these families have opened up about why they chose kinship and how it has impacted their lives.
The Dunn Family
The Dunn family is a happy family of four. The mother, a social worker, and the father, a supervisor at a local plastics company, have a 3 year-old daughter and 2 year-old son. At the age of 9 months, their son was placed in the care of his biological cousins. When they were unable to adopt him, the Dunn parents stepped up to take him in. They did this as they wanted him to be able to stay connected with his sibling and other biological family, and they wanted to be able to provide him with permanency. They become licensed to adopt as they knew it was best for their situation. Ultimately, the decision to adopt was theirs, but they did have supports along the way, including those at Early Head Start, WIC, and Stark County JFS. There was the initial hesitation and doubt about being able to love another child as they do their daughter. But, the father states that after meeting the boy and his birth family, “every fear fell away.” They knew they loved him just the same right from the start.
The Dunn parents admit it was a big change when their son came to live with them. He had difficulty at night in having a sleep routine as “his whole world was turned upside down.” He eventually learned to trust his family members. With time, their daughter naturally took on the role model of big sister. She now protects him but also pesters him like in any sibling relationship. The parents report that over time, parenting two young children began to become less overwhelming, and their bond grew stronger. About this process, the parents say, “We all had to work to get to where we are now. But it is worth it, every single second.”
The Dunn family loves music. They sing along together while riding in the car or watching movies. When dad plays music, mom, son, and daughter join in. They continue to connect as a family and create lifelong memories together. Along with spending time together as a family of four, The Dunn tribe is active in the lives of their close friends and family. Their son’s biological cousins, being incredibly understanding, have been a strong support for the family, especially during their son’s transition into their household. They still keep in communication, so their son has positive connections to his birth family.
The Dunn family understands the important of kindship placement saying kinship allows children a chance to stay with birth family or maybe a close family friend that regular foster care can’t provide. And when asked what they would say to others considering foster care, the parents say, “You making the decision to support and love them really sets the tone for them feeling loved and supported through life. It can be hard, but if it’s for the right reasons, it will be every bit worth it.” When the parents hear their son call them “mommy” and “daddy,” they know they made the right decision to help him become a part of their forever family.
The Smith Family
When becoming a kinship placement and eventual adoptive parents, The Smith couple state they never had any hesitations. The mother states children services has been a part of her life
since the 1950’s. She has seen the cycle continue through generations, but she has also witnessed those who have broken the cycle. She remarks, “I broke the cycle.” She and her husband were determined to never watch a child leave their family and not know there are relatives who love that child.
The wife, a social worker, and husband, a retired Army veteran who works in loss prevention, have 3 children and one foster placement who will soon be adopted. The Smith parents, not yet licensed as foster and adoptive parents, became a kinship placement when the need arose within their family. They became licensed in 2019, and their first kinship placement adoption was final that sane year. Recently, that child’s brother was born, and his adoption will be final this year. As the mother is a social worker, she understands how agencies work with families, but she states going through the process herself has given her a new appreciation for kindship families. She feels she can relate to individuals who are beginning the process and going through it for the first time. Her advice is to not jump into these types of situations blindly. Instead, ask questions and learn what becoming a foster parent means for your family.
As they have continued on in their journey as a kinship placement and adoptive family, they have received support from friends, family, co-workers, and agency workers. The parents put importance upon having conversations with immediate and extended family and close friends about kinship care because it will affect them, too. Beneficial partnerships have been formed between the parents and various professionals through Akron Children’s Hospital and Pediatrics, Help Me Grow, Aultman, WIC and recently the local school district.
The Smith couple wants the children in their family to know they have relatives who want to be a part of their lives. When asked what they would say to future foster and adoptive parents, they say, “Understand that it may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done, but know that it will also be the most rewarding!”
The Bell Family
The Bell Family mother states she is a strong advocate for children to be placed with kin as she knows the importance of children residing with relatives when they are unable to be with their parents. When she was approached about being a kinship placement for her great nephew, she already had two adult daughters, two adult step-daughters, and one elementary school-aged child. In 2018, her brother received placement of their great niece. During that time, a sibling was born, and when the brother was unable to take that sibling, the Bell family accepted that child into their home. The mother says, “I needed to step forward and keep my relative out of foster care. I brought him home from the hospital when he was four days old and he has been in my home since.”
She admits that it was overwhelming to bring a newborn home and take care of him. She, her fiancé, and her children all chipped in and shared some responsibility in caring for the baby, and this made the situation easier for all involved. Through this journey, the Bell family had the support of individuals including a caseworker and agency transporter. They assisted with tasks such as providing supplies for the child, scheduling visits and appointments, and connecting them with other agencies. The family was worried about being able to afford daycare for the child, so they applied for Child Only benefits which helped offset some of the daycare costs. Their caseworker provided case management, and they received additional aids, such as the medical card, WIC, and Help Me Grow. Instead of becoming licensed, they did a CLC to stay as connected with the birth parents as possible.
To adoptive parents, The Bell mother states, “You will be provided your own caseworker that will be there to help you and advocate for you.” Along with supports from individuals and agencies, training is provided to kinship placements and adoptive parents. The Bell family has received training regarding child abuse and neglect and how to parent children who have suffered trauma. She feels this training gives insight into working with birth parents in an effective way.
One thing the Dunn, Bell, and Smith families have in common is they understand the value of kinship families. Through agreeing to become placement for kin, these families have changed the lives and futures of the children they now love and parent.
One individual who works within children services states, “Keeping children with kinship families is the next best thing when a child has to be removed from their parents. They know the person and already have a connection with them.” She reports that immediately after removing a child from home, they begin looking for a kinship placement as this makes the situation less traumatic for the child.
Kinship is recognized for its importance in protecting child well-being by keeping connections with birth families. Recently, an executive order was signed into law for ODJFS to pay eligible kinship caregivers who have placement of a child in the custody of Children Services. The program is called the Kinship Support Program (KSP) and it encourages kinship caregivers to become licensed as a foster parent.