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Relatives and Close Kin Step into Foster Parent Roles

Imagine being a grandmother, retired, living a relatively quiet life in your Milwaukee neighborhood. Now imagine opening your home to not just one or two, but four, children under the age of 10.

That’s exactly what one SaintA client did recently when her granddaughters needed to go into out-of-home care.

As it turns out, she is far from alone. More and more relatives are stepping up to provide care for children removed from their parents. Non-related kin are also coming forward to provide what is known as kinship caregiving. Many who take on these roles do so very informally and without a lot of support. 

An Emerging type of Caregiver
According a national count of foster homes and families, recently published in the Chronicle of Social Change, Wisconsin kinship caregivers make up more than 2,000 foster homes, with 39 percent of all youth in foster care living with relatives – that’s above the national average.
Of those relative caregivers, 10 percent are caring for children without financial support from a child welfare agency. 

The Foster and Kinship Navigators at SaintA are changing all of that. “As kinship care has risen, so has the need for greater resources to help these emerging foster families navigate a complex system,” says Jenny Keefe, SaintA Director of Family Services, in a recent letter to the Chronicle of Social Change. 

“We work to help relatives and other close-kin understand the child welfare system and access resources vital to meeting the needs of children in their care.”

Bursting with Love – and Also at the Seams 
It was September of 2018, when SaintA placed four sisters with their grandmother, Ms. Scott (not her real name.) “Like most relative and kinship caregivers, she took these girls, between the ages of 3 and 9, into her home without hesitation,” explains Shannon Roundtree, a Foster and Kinship Navigator at SaintA.

She wanted the girls to stay together, keep their sibling bond, remain in their own school and be close to extended family.” 

Shannon helped Ms. Scott navigate the child welfare and court systems and secure basic resources for the girls. But there was one big problem: The house was small for five females to share. 

With Shannon’s encouragement, Ms. Scott took the extra step to become licensed, which means she now has access to formal support and training. More importantly, she has just enough financial stability to find a larger house and enroll the girls in more community programs in and around their neighborhood of origin.

Restoring Connections 
“Relative and kinship caregiving minimizes trauma related to being removed from the home and improves child well-being,” adds Jenny. “When a family connection is maintained, children have better behavioral and health-related outcomes.” 

Read our team’s full letter in the Chronicle of Social Change to learn how Foster and Kinship Navigators can help all types of caregivers now and as we draw closer to the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) taking effect in Wisconsin in 2021.