Redefining Kin to Maintain Family Connections
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My childhood and early teen years could easily be described as a seesaw. My mother fought a lifelong battle with chemical dependency, and my father was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to me and my siblings. During that time, my life consisted of enduring the ups and downs, including investigations, removals, and reunification a few days later. It seemed like a never-ending cycle. I entered the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) care in October 2004 with my two younger siblings. This was the day before my 15th birthday. My two siblings and I experienced three placements together, because DFPS did not want to separate us. One of those placements was eventually identified as a failed kinship placement because of my decision to return to care.
As I began to come of age, the State of Texas decided to implement more rights for young adults as well as inform them of placement options. Due to a few life circumstances as well as conflict within the household, I had the opportunity to choose whether I would like to remain in kinship care or return to foster care. Placement with my family member would not provide me with access to college or some of the aftercare benefits, such as tuition and fee waivers, living expenses, or transitional living supports. Taking into consideration what the State could provide for me, I chose to return to traditional foster care. My family member and the State allowed me to advocate for myself as well as take the first step toward applying the critical-thinking skills I had learned to begin to enter adulthood. By remaining in care, I was able to establish relationships with people who became my mentors, role models, and close friends. I obtained access to educational resources and opportunities that I would not have had access to otherwise. I also gained more members to what I consider my FAMILY.
Because of the placement, I like to think that I have created my own kinship and redefined my “kin.” My foster parents not only worked with my family members but they worked to ensure that they were doing everything possible in their scope to allow their "girls" to maintain relationships with their biological families. They understood that our family relationships—parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents—would be long term. Statistics show that when youth age out of foster care, they often return to their biological families. My foster parents understood the importance of maintaining the family connections that would be critical to us as we entered adulthood and began to transition into independent living. One could say that my foster parents were essentially the bridge to make sure that we maintained these relationships with our birth families and had all the tools necessary to determine whether those relationships would be beneficial to us after reaching adulthood. My kinship placement allowed me the opportunity to explore adulthood by utilizing my judgement. My foster placement allowed me to maintain those kinship relationships that I would need to sustain throughout my transition and life in general. Over 10 years later, I am still confident in that decision. I do not consider my kinship placement a failure but the opportunity to develop my own lifelong kinship.