Kinship Caregiver Challenges & Concerns
Kinship caregiver challenges are very similar to challenges faced by foster parents, but the emotional impact of raising a relative’s child is unique. While foster parents make a conscious, well-planned decision to take a child into their home, kinship caregivers often have to make the decision quickly and without preparation. Also, because the child is family, there are complex emotions that kinship parents must cope with, including being torn between the needs of the child they’re caring for and, in many cases, the wants of their own child.
There are many topics of concern that kinship caregivers face; here is a partial list:
• Are court appearances possible?
• Financial assistance, food and clothing
• Health insurance
• Permission for medical treatment
• Safety requirements for my home
• Who will help?
• What services are available?
• Working with the caseworker and understanding the service plan
• What if I need a break?
Financial assistance to overcome some kinship caregiver challenges
Perhaps the best resource a kinship care provider can utilize is the child’s caseworker. A caseworker is a professional member of the child welfare system. In New Jersey, caseworkers work for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). They have access to many resources. Their primary responsibility is to help ensure the care and well-being of the child. They work on developing a service plan for each child placed in care. Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) also has Family Advocates on staff. They possess knowledge of DCP&P policies and statewide programs and services.
In New Jersey, all relatives and family friends caring for a child under DCP&P supervision are required to become a licensed resource parent. By becoming a licensed resource parent, a relative or family friend will be eligible for board payments, a clothing allowance, health coverage for the child and other support. For relatives caring for a child who was not placed through DCP&P, they still may be eligible for certain forms of financial aid through the NJ Kinship Navigator Program.
The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program provides financial resources while helping low-income families become self-sufficient. Food stamps are available for families who fall below certain income levels. In some cases, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) via Social Security is another potential source of funds.
Other Kinship Caregiver Challenges
Schooling is another situation in foster and kinship care that may provide challenges for both caregivers and the children themselves. School systems must be aware of special situations that occur due to care. Children in care are likely to have assimilation and discipline problems. Ongoing and clear communication among the kinship caregivers, the caseworker and the schools is essential. Children may have physical and emotional obstacles to overcome. One of New Jersey’s goals for children in foster or kinship care is that they “…receive supports and services to ensure a successful transition into adulthood.” This can only happen when all parties work together in the best interests of the child.
Respite care is another term for simply needing a break. Many kinship caregivers are grandparents. A majority have not cared for a child in a number of years. They may have settled into a particular lifestyle. One should remember that it is difficult to help others unless you take care of yourself. Most states have some form of respite care where the child is placed in a licensed home for a weekend or week, to allow for some rest for the caregivers.
Health care is a primary concern for everyone, including new kinship caregivers. According to statistics highlighted in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, “Nearly 90 percent of young children entering the foster care system have physical health problems, and 55 percent have two or more chronic conditions.” A large number of children in care are in need of behavioral health assistance. Some articles indicate approximately 60% of children in foster care are in desperate need of dental care. New Jersey is one of only four states (the others are Illinois, Vermont and Utah) that have created state programs to better manage the health care needs of the children in their custody. The Medicaid program, which can cover health care benefits for foster children, provides a base for their health needs.
Sometimes kinship caregiver challenges can be overwhelming; at those times, it’s important for kinship parents to remember why they are doing what they do. A very positive factor about kinship care is described by the Children’s Defense Fund. They have written, “There is also strong evidence that children placed in kinship care experience greater stability [and] have fewer behavioral problems.”
In summary, kinship caregivers should not be shy to ask about resources that can assist them with the children they have taken into their care. There is help for you and the child you have taken into your home. Learn more about help for grandparents raising grandchildren and other kinship caregivers in NJ.