Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends (often referred to as fictive kin). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it helps maintain the children's connections with their families, increases stability, and overall minimizes the trauma of family separation. Kinship caregivers may be referred to as formal or informal kinship families based on if they are officially involved with the child welfare systems or not.
Kinship caregivers and families may be faced with needs, questions, and constraints different than resource foster care families. Child welfare agencies continue to address these unique needs through kinship navigator programs that help caregivers manage the foster care licensing process; connect families to available supports and services; and understand legal, medical, or other systems and requirements.
As jurisdictions place higher emphasis on placing children and youth in relative or familiar settings, some are expanding and advancing the support provided to kinship caregivers. This is a series of episodes featuring the advances created and implemented by child welfare agencies and their partners to strengthen kinship families and meet the unique needs faced by these caregivers.
This episode features a group of kinship-centered services and programs from Rhode Island. The State’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families created a separate team dedicated to family search and engagement that identifies and attempts to create relationships with family members or those with connections to children and youth. The department also leverages caregiver peers as mentors and navigators to provide emotional support and connect families to services and support. Throughout all of its engagement with families and caregivers, Rhode Island emphasizes a customer-service approach to working with families and recognizes the emotions and added stressors placed on grandparents, extended family members, and close connections when asked to bring children and youth into their homes.
The following individuals are featured in this episode:
- Melissa Aguiar-Rivard, LMHC, chief of practice standards, Recruitment Development and Support, Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families
- Lori D’Alessio, deputy chief of licensing, Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families
- Dorn Dougan, regional director, Region 4, Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families
Topics discussed include the following:
- Why kinship caregivers should be treated differently by agencies and caseworkers, and the specific challenges kinship caregivers face
- How to strengthen relationships between caseworkers and kinship caregivers
- What roles and responsibilities the Rhode Island’s Family Search and Engagement team have
- How to adapt a customer-service approach across the State’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and what it means for caseworkers to “manage emotions first”