Family Engagement in Child Welfare: Supporting Kin Caregivers

In Clark County Nevada, the child
welfare agency recognized that kin caregivers often need additional support. Who better
to provide ongoing support services than kin caregivers with first-hand
experience? As part of the Children’s Bureau Systems of Care Initiative, the agency paired new kin caregivers
with full-time, paid kinship specialists who themselves
had cared for extended family placed in the child welfare system. The
kinship specialists served as coaches, trainers and advocates
for the unique needs of kin caregivers. The results were powerful. Research
showed enhanced coping abilities and increased
licensing among relative caregivers and improved placement stability and
child safety. I think every child welfare agency in the country now pretty much has has the philosophy and policy that the first choice of placement is place with
relatives. Families step forward out of a sense of love
and commitment to their extended family members but really have no idea what becoming involved in the child welfare system is going to be about. Often they haven’t really
anticipated and thought about this for very long. Generally if you think about foster
parents, they think about becoming foster parents for about a year before they
ever apply. Relatives think about it for about 20
minutes. Certainly, a central part
of this project was kinship liaisons who would support relatives through
their transition from extended family to extended family
caregivers. If you take into consideration some prominent values and philosophies of
child welfare that children are best served in
families, that they need to retain a sense of identity and where they came
from, and that if they need to be removed from
their home that that first placement needs to be also the last placement until they return
to the family, if possible. Then, really, it justifies the need for a
relative caregiver and more so that kinship liaison who is
going to make sure that that placement is in fact the first, the last, and the
best. That they have all the resources that
they need and that that child is going to be secure there with that family for the
duration of their time with our agency. I am a kinship liaison, or you can call it kinship specialist. I help the relative caregivers get different resources in the community, or help them with the licensing process
or help them to obtain information around our child
welfare system and what they need to make it through our processes that we have. To reduce some of the fears that they
have of dealing with our system and you know what the outcome will be for
their families. Having your own experience as a caregiver, it’s… I mean you really need to be able to
walk in those shoes to really, truly understand everything that’s going to happen, might happen and will
happen. So unless you really been there and done that I think you are cheating the
caregiver a little bit because they need to know these things. They need
to know that, in the middle of the night, their family member could come knocking
on their door saying, “Hey, I wanna see my kids.” And I think having first-hand
experience with that… I don’t think you can duplicate that any
other way except for being there and done that. Having a
kinship liaison assigned guides the relative through the
process, expectations that the department may have concerning foster parents, their role in being a caregiver, and the emotional component, someone that
they can relate to. It’s a very valuable thing to have and
also to connect them with other relatives in the community as well. So if they need an additional
support, they have that. I think that the the kinship program has
been successful with the relative caregivers we’ve had in identifying what some of the resources
are that maybe initially the worker wasn’t able to. We are able to focus on
that one family and what the needs of that family are
as related to this child, and they brought to the table needs that we previously
weren’t aware of that we can then help better meet the
family’s needs. Without that the kinship liaison, I don’t think that the community will be
fully served because they wouldn’t know the programs
and the social service programs that they can can get within community. Without the liaison, the clientele would not know
how to be able to get bus passes for their medical appointments, how to get diapers when they’re in need. Brandy Manual is an awesome woman. She really went out of her way for me. She would follow up on me, see how I’m
doing, come by and visit see how we’re doing, asking
if we had any needs for my granddaughter which we did. So and
she really came through as far as resources of the city, things that I can take advantage of. The kinship liaison program makes a
difference that matters. And the evidence of that is that we’ve been able to move more
relatives to licensure, which has increased our stability of relative
placements. That relative caregivers are getting
the supports they need, and that there’s greater stability in the early phases of this placement.
One other thing I would say is, sometimes you get things going and
it’s going really well and, because you have so many fires going
you turn your head and start focusing on other things and
you fail to nurture what you started. It’s easy to start a
program; they start and end all the time. Building something that goes on at the end of the grant is different. We
thought that we could do this with a volunteer
network and that just was not doable, it wasn’t. Until we actually brought
staff in and valued that role by making them
legitimate employees with the benefits and everything else that every other
employee gets, it really wasn’t gonna work. We needed
these to be dedicated positions. By far and large what became the most
important thing was to legitimize these positions within the

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