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Monday, September 17, 2007

What is Kinship Care?

I have had a few DO NOT POST comments/questions recently about this topic, and I am certainly not going to give away any one's private information, but I thought a post about the topic might be good.

Kinship care is when a relative takes temporary (thought it often becomes permanent) custody of a child to whom they are related. There are also cases where they are not actually related, but the person is very close to a child, like when a father dies and the step-mother asks for custody, but I won't get into those. I was asked, "What is the difference between kinship care and foster parenting?" Well, with foster parenting, the plan is generally for whatever situation arises over an extended period of time. 'Coming into care' occurs about when a specific issue arises in the present home that becomes unsafe. When a child is removed by the police (caseworkers are not allowed to do it, so if a caseworker shows up at your door alone and tries to take your kids, call 911) the very first thing they try to do is find a close relative to care for the child. It is less traumatic, keeps government control of families small, and most of all (in their minds), is free to the county (although the child may qualify for assistance, such as SS, the county does not pay the kinship care giver a stipend like they do foster families).

Sometimes a child is taken into custody and relatives are found, but they are far away. The decision in this case will depend on the specific situation. If it is a parent who has not been sanctioned by family court for some reason that would restrict contact, the parent has a right to custody. We've been in that situation before. Then the child is only in a foster home until the arrangements can be made for the parent to get the child. To answer another question here, yes, they will most likely do some checking on you, parent or not, before they hand the child over. This is for liability reasons, and will possibly include a home study, psychiatric evaluation, proof of ability to support the child, and a signed agreement to abide by the policies (so like if mom loses custody, but gets weekly visitation, dad would have to sign that he will show up for the visits before he could have the child).

Sometimes kinship care is not acceptable because the relative would allow the parents unauthorized visitation or whatever and make the situation no better than it was. And sometimes a relative is kept in mind so that if the parents lose custody, a family member will still be raising the children.

So, if your sister's kids end up in foster care, what do you do? There is a lot to be considered here. What was the circumstance that resulted in removal?

This child is your relative, and that does give you a more personal responsibility according to the Bible. There was never anything like a nursing home, foster parents, or detention center in the Bible. Unfortunately, our world has become so corrupt that evil abounds, and people refuse responsibility for their own families. And yet, if the situation looks too hard to handle, do not sacrifice your own kids to try and save another. Some instances might not be appropriate, such as taking a nephew who has demonstrated violence toward animals or other children when you have young ones in your home. You will really have to listen to God speak to your heart on this one.

You should very prayerfully consider the matter and discuss it within your immediate family. Another consideration is the history of the child. Is this something that happened all of a sudden, or is there a pattern of abuse, neglect, or whatever that would make the child more likely to have been 'damaged'? If you determine that God would have you to care for the child, the first step (after praying and praying and praying) is to contact the agency that has custody of her and tell them that you are interested in kinship care for the girl. They will be able to tell you what the next steps would be for their specific county.

A few things to keep in mind during this process are:

1. I do not know if every state has the same laws, but in Ohio, parents get a full year to complete their caseplan. If they have shown progress, they can apply for 2 extensions of 6 months each (and all they have to accomplish to show progress is show up to something) so technically they have 2 years to complete the caseplan before the county looks at permanent placement elsewhere. The parents have to be given every last chance to work it out, so they cannot come back and appeal it. That is why our cases took so long. Each set of parents got their extensions, so it was a full 2 years before the county even started the permanency process.

2. If they do strip the mother of her parental rights, they will be looking for a placement that will NOT allow her to 'sneak' back in. They want someone who agrees that her parenting was lacking and would take steps to keep the kids safe. Now once the kids were ours legally, we got to determine what contact if any the parents could have, but by law we could not leave her alone with them because she had been found unfit. All we have allowed, anyway, is letters on occasion. So if it gets to that point, don't be afraid to 'get tough' with her, because if it appears you would give in, they might see you as a detriment rather than a help to the safety of the kids.

3. Caseworkers will also be looking for diligence. Don't wait for them to contact you. If the kids are too far away to be placed with you until permanency, call every month and ask for an update on them. Send them care packages and letters via the caseworker (being aware they will be monitored) saying you are thinking about them and praying for them and whatever. They want to see that you are truly concerned for the kids. Ask if the kids may call you, and then send a calling card. If at all possible, make plans to visit them at least once so that the caseworker can A). see you interact with the kids, and B). the kids will have a more recent mental picture of who you are if the need arises for you to take them permanently. Another way to make points is to write a letter directly to the foster family (though you will probably not be given a name) and thank them for caring for the kids. It's nice for the foster parents, but that isn't why I suggested it. The caseworker will be a MAJOR factor in determining where the kids end up if mom doesn't pull it together, and if she sees you as a 'team-player', she will be much more helpful in getting you through the hoops.

A few things I would send: photos of family members, diaries or journals, modest hair accessories, modest jewelry, board games, coloring books, paint sets, educational items (model kits, explorer books, etc.), a Bible with special verses about how God is always aware of our situation highlighted with a note inside about how those verses are true and God will work everything out for their situation
WHY? the pictures show the family connection, give the kids something they most likely don't have with them, a diary shows you care about their feelings, the coloring books and education items show that you care about their learning potential and they are worth investing in, modest jewelry and hair accessories for girls help them feel more secure (and help them feel pretty without being sexualized, especially in cases of sexual abuse), and Bible verses about not being abandoned are always a comfort.

A few things I would NOT recommend sending: candy, any food, electronics, music (unless it is soothing gospel), anything character-ish (like Bratz or Shrek. The reason for that is that you don't know what the foster family allows in their home, and I have had some pretty terse moments when someone gave kids something specifically not allowed in my house, because then it became about who is 'nicer') Candy makes kids hyper (and many families don't allow it), food implies that you think they are not being fed properly, electronics can be an issue if there is school work that is behind of if they are loud or a distraction

4. Don't worry about mom's feelings right now. She needs to feel panicked if she has any chance of changing things for the better. And if she is not given back custody, the main priority is the kids. She had the opportunity to make choices, they did not. Do not let her reaction hamper your decisions in any way (I know, easier said than done!) I have seen hard-nosed caseworkers do miracles with clients, and I have seen softy caseworkers who enabled the blaming, procrastination, and bad choices to the very end. She has enough 'friends' (though they are not truly friends if they just enable her) and she needs some challenges from people who care more about the kids than about her feelings. I can't believe I just wrote that! I was the one, in the beginning, who took each parent under my wing. But I soon realized they took it for granted and thought it meant they were welcome to break the rules and sneak around with my approval, and that was very untrue!

If/when the kids are placed with you, a good pre-plan will help when the weirdness of a new situation makes your mind go blank. Have a list of rules handy, but do not go over them the minute the kid gets there. Give some time for adjustment and wait for an actual, obvious testing before you get too stern (some kids take 5 seconds to get there, but I always find it best to let them make the first move in getting 'real'). A child who has been in a bad situation for a period of time will be of greater concern. This child should be homeschooled and not allowed to join any groups where you would not be immediately present at all times. It is both a protection for her, and for the other kids. Abused children believe that kind of activity is normal, and so they will be both more susceptible to other perpetrators, and be likely to be perpetrate themselves. It is also best if she have her own room, though if that is not possible, you need to really make very clear to your kids that if something bad happens they are to come to you no matter what. The Pearls of No Greater Joy Ministries do not believe in families fostering while they raise their own kids, and this is a part of their reason why. Best case scenario is that the child you are taken in is the same age as or younger than your own children. And I personally would not take a teen aged boy (who has experienced prolonged abuse) if I had girls. Foster homes with teenagers are segregated by sex here, unless they are siblings.

The basic idea would be to re-program her. Show her first what normal affection looks like, what boundaries are, how to respect the wishes of others. These things seem common sense, but she has not experienced any of them. You will really have to monitor her television, music, and magazine exposure. In fact, if possible, make her only form of electronic entertainment praise and worship music that YOU have purchased. It will not be an instant change. You may not even see the fruit of your effort, but I think one counter point to the hard, scary, messiness of it is that this girl has a soul that is of unmeasurable value to God.

Children are not disposable, and the very best chance she has is with someone who loves her as Christ loves her and understand what happened isn't her fault, but will not let that be an excuse for allowing it to continue. You'll have to be simultaneously inhumanly compassionate and strict. A rigid schedule and lots of physical activity are your best bet. When she is left to figure out what to do next she will be most likely to get into trouble. You'll even have to structure her fun times because she will have to re-learn how to be 'normal'. The advantage you have over the caseworkers and psychologists is that the living God is both in you and with you, and that is the only real power to change anyone at all.

For a child who has had a fairly 'normal' life, things will be less rigid. A lot of choices will have to be weighted after arrival and the 'honeymoon' is over. And have a group of people who can help- church members, neighbors, other family. Just make sure they are not going to come in and stare like you have just moved in an alien from Mars, or ask 1,000 personal questions that are none of their business anyway. Print this out and give it to them.

Whatever happens, you must be united with your spouse. Fighting over caring for someone else's kids has ended marriages (I know one) and then you'll have another set of kids from a ruptured home, not to mention the damage to a kid who has just been recently moved and feels responsible for the break-up. Always be in the Word for strength, guidance, and hope that this corrupt world will not last forever and one day we will sit in awe at the Savior's feet, who saved us from our own dire situation and made us his own.

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