Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable reduction in the number of children in traditional foster care in the U.S. This is encouraging. On a national level, the numbers have declined from approximately 440,000 in the year 2014 to 391,000 as of 2022. In Georgia where I live, the reflection in numbers has been similar, with a decline from over 14,200 in 2018 to 10,400 as of August of 2023. I am told that one reason for this decline is extended biological families stepping forward to adopt their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren who are in foster care. Along with this, an increasing number of blood relatives—aunts & uncles, grandparents as well as close family friends --stepping forward to become foster parents for these children. This is called kinship foster care. As of 2021, 32 percent of foster children in the U.S. were in kinship families—an encouraging statistic.
Not unlike traditional foster care, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends deciding to foster children from their own close friendship relationships and extended families must make sacrifices in order to do so. Fostering a child who has endured trauma (and all foster children have) must educate themselves on all the damaging emotional baggage that a child may bring into a new environment. For the child, coming to live with his or her biological relatives or close friends does not mean that the residual effects of their past trauma are going to disappear. Thus, family caregivers must also go into the fostering relationship with their eyes wide open, expecting the unexpected, and above all, knowing fully that “love is not enough.” Love is certainly the foundation for fostering a child, but instilling a consistent routine, firm but fair discipline, and developing thick skin emotionally are absolutely necessary as extensions of this love.
There are definite benefits for a child being placed with relatives or close family friends. These include preserving the child’s cultural identity, the lessening of residual trauma, increased stability and longevity of placement, and typically, fewer behavioral challenges. Placement with blood family or close friends can go a long way in helping a vulnerable child to flourish developmentally.
Are you considering—or have you been asked—to be a kinship foster parent? Here are some important things to consider:
Am I in good shape with my physical and mental health?
What impact will my decision to foster have on the rest of my immediate family?
Can I provide the type of physical safety that this child needs?
Am I willing to parent a child that is not my own?
Am I willing to make the major sacrifice of time that will help this child to flourish?
If you want to learn more about kinship fostering, here are some great resources:
The Kinship Parents Toolbox, by Kim Phagan-Hansel
Reframing Foster Care, by Jason Johnson
A Grandfamily for Sullivan: Coping Skills for Kinship Care Families, by Beth Winkler Tyson and Adam Walker-Parker