What is Kinship Care?

Leah Tripp

When talking about foster care and adoption, it can be easy to get lost among the many labels that apply to different forms of care. Kinship care is a term that is often used within the world of foster care, but may not be fully understood.

Kinship care occurs when a child who has been removed from their parents is placed under the care and supervision of another relative (stepparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, etc), or in some states, under the care of a close family friend (who are often called fictive kin).

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In many situations, kinship care is the desired option, as it allows the children who are being removed from their parents to retain their connection with their family. While kinship care is not always an option, it often provides the child with a greater sense of stability while still allowing them to maintain cultural traditions, which makes it a preferable situation in many cases.

Since kinship care often involves a legal and/or biological tie to the child, the eligibility process varies based on case. In some situations, kinship care is “formal,” meaning that the child(ren) involved are legally removed from the home of their biological parents and taken into the custody of the State. This requires the child welfare agency, along with the court system, to find a caregiver to place the child with, beginning with immediate relatives. Because this process is intimately tied to the legal system, formal kinship caregivers must complete a training and licensure process, while also providing financial compensation and other supportive services.

In other situations, kinship care can be informal, or “voluntary,” meaning that the State has not taken legal custody of the children, but the biological parents of the child, typically under the advisement of child welfare agencies, have voluntarily placed their children with a relative. Custody status may change over time in these situations, but at the start, voluntary kinship care is defined by the fact that biological

parents have willingly temporary relinquished their full-time care of the child. Because the legal process of voluntary care is not as strenuous, many voluntary kinship caregivers do not have to go through the training and licensure process.

The ultimate goal of kinship care is reunification with the biological parents. However, the return of the child to his or her original home is not always an option. In these cases, many kinship caregivers are given the option to adopt the child they have been caring for. As with any form of foster care or adoption, the primary goal of kinship care is to provide the safest and most stable environment for the child involved.

Staff Spotlight: Kia Carter

Leah Tripp

Kia Carter is passionate about community.

As a social worker with AGAPE of North Carolina for a little over 2 years, Carter has seen just how important relationships, community, and connection are within foster families, but also within the agency itself.

Carter’s steadfast belief in the life-giving quality of community has led her to implement several initiatives, new to AGAPE this year, to nurture growth and connection among foster families.

One of these initiatives combines education and technology, as Carter is attempting to create an online study book for foster parents who are in the process of receiving their continuing education hours. Carter’s career as a social worker has shown her just how helpful support programs like this can be for busy families.

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“I know it can be hard to get the 10 hours that they need every year to continue their licensing, so I want to try and make it as convenient as I can with information that I know will be helpful for all of our foster parents.”

Carter also speaks to the importance of AGAPE’s quarterly connection gatherings as a means for foster families to support one another. These meetings allow foster parents within the agency to meet one another and share advice and encouragement. Carter explains that these meetings allow foster parents to support one another through challenges, and celebrate together in victories.

In addition to providing community for current foster families, these gatherings also give Carter hope for the future in terms of implementing a mentoring program for new foster parents. She explains that while she, as a social worker, can offer practical advice and experience, she realizes the value in hearing from someone who has truly been where you are.

“When you have someone who has gone before you and done what you are in the process of doing it is nice to have someone to talk to that gets it.”

While the concept of a mentoring program is still in the works, Carter explains that any program that creates community has its root in the gospel, and therefore, is worth creating and cultivating within an organization like AGAPE, which Carter says functions as a family in itself. AGAPE functions like a tight-knit family, and therefore seeks to create communities for those involved with its services.

Carter ends by sharing her ultimate motivation for her upcoming initiatives: her faith.

“Community is life-giving—and essential to following Christ. Scripture says that’s because we’re better together than we are alone.”

How Can My Church Serve Foster Children and Families?

Leah Tripp

While not everyone within a church will be called to be a full-time foster parent, there are other ways that your church can care for foster families and show Christ’s love to children in foster care. In addition to praying fervently for foster children and their families, churches can also serve in the following ways. 

Respite Care Teams

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Respite care providers are trained individuals who can offer babysitting services to full-time foster care parents. Respite care is important to the overall wellness of foster parents and their children, and provides a qualified, consistent support system for families. AGAPE of North Carolina offers training courses for respite parents. If someone in your church or small group is a full-time foster parent, consider supporting them through respite care. 

Mentoring

There are several programs in North Carolina and across the country that recruit mentors for older children and young adults in foster care. Mentors can make connections with foster youth and guide them in a variety of ways, including tutoring, job skills, college readiness, emotional wellness, and many other healthy lifestyle habits. Encourage your church family to serve foster children by signing up for a mentoring program. 

AGAPE of NC is licensing Young Adult Foster Homes that are in need of mentors from local congregations. To learn more about this opportunity, email Mary Arnold at marnold@agapeofnc.org. 

Care Packages

Care packages can be helpful for both foster children and potential foster families. There are a variety of organizations that sponsor care packages for children in care. Programs like Comfort Cases and Project Shoe Box provide care packages and/or suitcases with hygiene items, books, school supplies, and toys to children and youth in foster care. Churches can donate supplies and/or completed care packages to organizations such as these. 

Care packages can also be helpful for foster parents. Foster care placements can often come at short notice, which means new foster parents may be lacking in supplies for the child they just received. Consider having items like diapers, gift cards, and other necessities ready for any foster families in your community or congregation. 

The “Little Things” 

If there’s one thing I’ve heard consistently from my conversations with people involved in foster care, it’s that scheduling and time management can be really difficult. Foster parenting is a time commitment, which can make it easy for smaller tasks to fall to the wayside. If you know someone who is a foster parent, offer to bring them a hot meal, cut their grass, or pick up their groceries. Small acts of kindness go a long way, and there’s no telling how grateful someone will be to have the “little things” taken care of.