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What are the Benefits of Kinship Care?

Time and again, research shows that living with relatives is better for children than traditional foster care. Here are just some of the ways children have been found to benefit from kinship or fictive kin care when they are not able to continue living with their birth parents.

Minimizes trauma

Placement with kin caregivers can minimize the trauma children experience from being separated from their biological parents. When children are removed from their parental home, they often lose everything they know—their parents, their home, siblings, friends, school, and pets. Placing a child with a known relative can help minimize that loss. Also, relatives are sometimes willing to take siblings together and/or already live in the same neighborhood as the children’s parents, which allows for continuity of school and community. Children also receive the comfort and security of living with someone they already have a loving relationship with.

Improves a child’s well-being

Research confirms that children in kinship care fare better than those in traditional foster care. For example, children placed in the care of relatives experience more stability, with fewer placement changes, and less disruption to their education. Relatives are also more likely than nonrelatives to support the child through challenging times and are less likely to request the removal of children who have behavioral issues. Children have been found to express more positive feelings about living with kin or and are less likely to run away than if placed with strangers.

Increases stability for children

Relatives are more likely to provide children with a permanent home through guardianship, custody or adoption. In 2017, about 32% of children adopted from foster care were adopted by relatives. Another 9% of children exit foster care for some form of kin guardianship. And now, under the Fostering Connections Act, federally funded Guardianship Assistance Programs allows existing kin caregivers who become legal guardians to continue receiving financial assistance without having to remain in the foster care system.

Improves behavioral and emotional/mental health outcomes

Children in kinship homes are found to have better behavioral and mental health outcomes. One study showed children in kinship care had fewer behavioral problems three years after placement than those who were placed in traditional foster care. The study also found children who switched to kinship care after spending a significant time in foster care were more likely to have behavioral problems than those who were in kinship care from the start.

Promotes connection to siblings

An important aspect of kinship care is the increased likelihood of living with or staying closely connected with siblings. Data from the Illinois Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (ISCAW), a 2013 statewide study, showed 80% of children with one or two siblings in kinship care were placed together as compared to 66.9% for children in traditional foster homes. For children with three or more siblings in care the disparity is even greater with 53.5% of siblings placed together in kinship homes and only 1.8% placed together in traditional foster homes.

However, the report also stressed the need to provide support for relatives who foster or adopt as kin caregivers as they often have significantly lower incomes than other adoptive or foster parents.

Preserves a child’s cultural identity

Kinship care helps to preserve a child’s cultural identity and sense of community. Children in kinship homes are more likely to stay connected to extended family and maintain cultural customs. Research has shown family connections are vital to a child’s developing sense of belonging. For this reason and many others, kinship care should be encouraged, supported and celebrated in our communities so our children may have a brighter future – and present.

VKAP and COVE Team Up for Documentary

Kinship Care Documentary to Profile Vermont Families

Vermont Kin as Parents (VKAP) and the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) have teamed up to create The Kinship Experience, a one-hour documentary about Vermont families involved in kinship care. The project is funded by VKAP with COVE overseeing production. The film is scheduled for release in early 2022.

Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or close family friends when the child’s birth parents are unable to care for them for an extended period of time. It is widely regarded by child welfare professionals as the best placement option for foster children. In Vermont, an estimated 6,836 children live in kinship care.

“The outcomes for children who can’t be with their bio parents are so much better when they remain within a family structure, maintaining culture, identity, and family bonds,” said Ruby Baker, executive director of COVE. “COVE is excited to work on this documentary with VKAP and to share the stories of the incredible people who choose to step up for the children in their lives.”

COVE handpicked documentary filmmaker Brad Salon of Bear Notch Productions (Downstream), to film the project. Production began in March and is expected to continue throughout the summer and fall.

“I’m excited to be a part of telling the story of kinship care in Vermont because it’s such a common occurrence and mostly unspoken and unsupported in our society,” said Salon. “The more people know about kinship care the more they will want to reach out and support the community members who are supporting our state’s children. We’re lucky to have found some courageous and compassionate families willing to share their stories for the film.”

While circumstances leading to kinship care may be diverse, often it is a child’s grandparents who step into the parental role, Baker said.

“Most caregivers are grandparents, though there are certainly many other types of kinship care relationships,” Baker said. “The work is such a natural outgrowth of COVE’s mission to promote and protect quality of life for Vermonters as we age.”

Child welfare agencies have been pushing for more kinship placements in place of traditional foster care. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (also known as the Fostering Connections Act) increasing federal support to states so they can place more children permanently with relative guardians or adoptive parents.

“If a child must enter an alternative parent-child arrangement, then Kinship is by far the most frequent, least understood and, in my experience, offers the best future for the child,” said VKAP President Jim Holway. “It is also the least systemically supported.”

Holway said he hopes the documentary will increase awareness and community support for kinship care families in Vermont and beyond.

“Once people understand the challenges and joys of kinship, perhaps then we will be better prepared to support these families and address their needs,” he said.

“It’s important to us at COVE to educate the broader public about kinship care so people know how and when to seek help and where to find it,” Baker said. “We want people to know what kinship care is, to destigmatize it, and to break down barriers to services and supports and build a community. This documentary is a great way to start the conversation.”

For more information on Vermont Kin as Parents visit vermontkinasparents.org
For more information on Community of Vermont Elders visit vermontelders.org
For press or other inquiries about The Kinship Experience documentary, email Mara Brooks at marab@vermontelders.org

The Vermont Kinship Caregivers Guide has been updated!

Click here for the link.

Congratulations to the 2019 Marge Wood Award recipients!

Every year during the Vermont Kin as Parents annual conference we present two awards, one honoring a caregiver and one honoring a professional who have gone above and beyond for children/youth in kinship care. 

Marge Wood was an amazing professional who saw a need for kinship support and helped facilitate the first kinship support group in Vermont.  She provided insight and guidance to every family she met.  We have named this award in her honor!

The awardees were honored at the Vermont Kin as Parents Conference on September 10, 2019 at the Delta Hotel in South Burlington, Vermont.

Click here for some promised resources from VKAP’s 2019 Conference

  • Domestic Violence effects on Children with Ally Manousos (Domestic Violence Specialist at DCF) and Diane Kinney (Co-Director of Circle)
  • LBGTQ Transgender Workshop with Mara Iverson

The VT DCF Family Services Division is updating its Foster Care Regulations

The VT DCF Family Services Division (DCF-FSD) is updating its Foster Care Regulations which have not been fully reviewed and updated since 1992. In October 2017, the Residential Licensing and Special Investigations Unit (RLSI) completed its initial review and began discussing revisions. In early 2018 the US Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act which requires the federal government to develop model standards for foster care licensing. These federal standards have been considered and incorporated into the VT draft regulations and the conversation about how this will impact current practice continues.

They are beginning to share this draft with their closest internal stakeholders for review and comment before the formal distribution for comment occurs. Foster and adoptive parents are imperative to and valued by DCF-FSD and we wanted to ensure that they were all part of our initial reviews.

The draft regulations have been shared with the Vermont Foster/Adoptive Family Association (VFAFA) and Vermont Kin as Parents (VKAP).  Any comments or questions can be emailed to the workgroup alias also listed below or directed to VFAFA or VKAP representatives.

Overview of major changes: Draft regulations are updated to…

• align with the Reasonable and Prudent Parenting Standards;

• encourage culturally sensitive and inclusive foster parenting;

• update bedroom requirements and encourage developmentally appropriate sleeping arrangements;

• address “vaping” and marijuana use.

• address water safety

• reflect federally proposed Model Family Foster Home Licensing Standards. Changes include, but are not limited to: variance allowance to encourage and support kinship care, immunization requirements, functional literacy and the ability to communicate with a foster child in their own language, physical exam requirements, etc.

Here is a link the full document.