Mental Health for Kinship Families

What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Our state of mind also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. 

Why is mental health a concern for kinship families?

Separation from biological family, frequently changing situations and home environments, broken family relationships, and traumatic experiences can create chronic, long-term stress on kinship children. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, these experiences represent complex trauma, which is the exposure of children to one or multiple traumatic events over a long period of time. Whether a child is in kinship care due to abuse and neglect or simply due to a parent being unable to care for the child, it is not uncommon for a kinship child to have experienced complex trauma.

Providing kinship care can also be stressful for caregivers and other family members, no matter how much they love and welcome a kinship child. Bringing a new family member into the home can bring up feelings of resentment, require changes in schedules or routines, or add stress just by having an extra mouth to feed. For example, the caregiver may be a grandparent whose own children are grown and moved away and now has to provide care for a child once again. Or a caregiver may have children of their own who may now have to share a bedroom or simply the caregiver’s time and attention.

These mental health stressors associated with kinship care can show up as behavioral concerns for a kinship child, impact the physical health of individuals, and negatively affect the overall well-being of all members of the kinship family.

The importance of mental health care for kinship families.

According to a 2022 evaluation study of kinship caregivers and families by Data With Purpose and United Ways of California, 24% of kinship caregivers in the study identified a need for mental health support for either the caregiver or the kinship child.

Numerous studies have shown improved mental health and behavioral outcomes when a child is placed with a kinship family as opposed to placement in a non-relative foster home. Despite overall better outcomes, it is normal for a child in kinship care to benefit from mental health care during this time of potential trauma and transition.

Therefore, it is important for both a kinship child and caregiver to recognize that it is natural to have stressful feelings associated with the kinship care situation and also important to find supportive resources for all members of the family.

Some helpful suggestions to lessen the stress of displacement from one home to another for a kinship child…

  • Support the kinship child in maintaining friendships from their old school or neighborhood, even over the phone, social media, or zoom.
  • Set aside regular time for the kinship family and child to go on outings together to bond, such as going to the movies or mini golf.
  • Know that it is okay for the kinship family to enjoy occasional activities together without the kinship child to reconnect with the original family dynamic while still providing a supportive space for the kinship child.

Mental health care resources for the whole kinship family…

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