September is Kinship Awareness Month!

Many people are not aware there are thousands of people across the state of Minnesota caring for the children of their relatives. It happens in all kinds of families, and it goes like this – family members receive a call from a county or tribal agency asking if they can care for a child that is being removed from their home/family. If they respond yes and go through the required steps, they become formal kinship caregivers.

Our county and tribal agencies are increasingly finding extended family to provide a safe place for children while parents work through difficulties. The research is clear – when children cannot live with their parents, keeping them with people with whom they are already attached, or are at least familiar with, is best for the child’s well-being. We can all imagine what it would be like to be taken from our family and dropped off at a home with complete strangers, compared with being taken to a family member’s home.

The science verifies what we all know intuitively, whenever possible, children need to be with family or other known supportive adults before exploring the option of placing them with strangers. Sixto Cancel, founder and CEO of Think of Us, recently wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times about his story of being in stranger foster care when extended family members were nearby the whole time. It is a heartbreaking reminder of the importance of extensive family finding and kinship caregivers for children.

Families that step forward to care for a child being removed from their home are doing difficult work. Often, they are older adults (grandma, grandpa, aunt or uncle) and have already raised their own children. Thankfully, there are some resources for formal kinship caregivers because the counties know about them through the open child protection case. However, there are many families acting as informal kinship caregivers, taking care of a relative’s child before a child protection case is opened. They step up to give the child a safe place without having the government system involved, which is exactly what most of us would want for our family members. Once social services and the courts get involved, it can get complicated very quickly. Unfortunately, knowing who is doing informal kinship caregiving and offering them support is very difficult. MN Adopt has some information and resources on their website, but more is needed for these families.

Kinship Awareness month not only brings to light the critical importance of county and tribal agencies doing exhaustive family finding work for children that enter child protection, but the necessity of building support around kinship caregivers both formal and informal. They cannot do it alone. Let’s use Kinship Awareness Month to begin the process of building out the support system these families need. This will require the willingness of our state and local leaders to come together and invest in the well-being of formal and informal kinship caregivers for children.

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