What is my new role and what does kinship, foster and resource families mean?

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All families have origin stories. Sometimes these origins stories involve complex issues, trauma, or increasing situational tension. Your redefined family situation is almost always unintentional or unplanned. You didn’t find out you were pregnant, celebrate with a baby shower, make preparations for your baby, or plan an adoption of a child. Rather, you were catapulted into your new existence. Sometimes your new normal can be met with mixed feelings: a wide spectrum of emotions may be triggered at the beginning of your path, which is perhaps marked by non-traditional or evolving signs or definitions of what it means to be a family.

You are embarking on your own journey. It may be different than your neighbors’ or relatives’ adventures.

"Like the very signature of a human being’s DNA, each of us is different and your family is going to be different."

In fact, there may be more commonalities than meet the eye. “Meeting yourself where you are at,” and accepting where you are in your journey, will be a positive start. Consider refraining from reflecting on past events and wishing things would have turned out differently. If that happens, acknowledge your feelings and redirect yourself back to be mindfully in the present. Consider reaching out for help to process this new change in your family dynamic in whatever way would be most meaningful to you...consider talking to a friend or colleague, consulting with a local faith-based leader or mental health professional. And don’t forget you can search for mental health professionals utilizing our kinship navigator search portal on our home page. Carving out time for your self-care, and putting on your own oxygen mask, is going to be critical to the success of your new family. Start now!

The way you define your new role may seem not to be of consequence to you. Perhaps you don’t feel definitions are very important -- that you are just helping out, because that is what families do, maybe that is what family means to you. However, your new role and its approach and definition can prove to be helpful in a number of situations. Firstly, your approach may be very helpful in how your new family member perceives you as a role model in referencing and shaping his or her own response to this new life. Secondly, there are some terms that may be referenced when reaching out to services, so we share them with you here. Sometimes navigating services can be challenging because of all the evolving terminology used by the government and service providers. Navigating this system may become increasingly important. As the financial impact of this change begins to unfold in addition to the emotional aspects, it may be helpful to find resources and begin to identify if you are eligible for new benefits. Additionally our search portal on our home page can provide other financial resources for you. A glossary of terms has been created, but we share the three most important definitions for you to begin to know and understand: kinship parents, foster parents and resource families.

Kinship families as defined by the California Department of Social Services:

As the number and proportion of children in out-of-home care placed in the homes of relatives continue to grow, child welfare agencies have been making efforts to ensure that children are placed with relatives. The benefits of family care are recognized and are among the forces that have led to a growing use of kinship care. (Child Welfare League of America, January/February 1995)

What is kinship care?

Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions such as California, non-relative extended family members (NREFMs – often referred to as “fictive kin”). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children's connections with their families. “Informal kinship care” commonly refers to relatives raising children who are not in the foster care system.

"Relative" means an adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption, or affinity within the fifth degree of kinship, including stepparents, step-siblings, and all relatives whose status is preceded by the words "great," "great-great," or "grand," or the spouse of any of these persons, even if the marriage was terminated by death or dissolution. However, only the following relatives shall be given preferential consideration for the placement of the child: an adult who is a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling.

A "nonrelative extended family member" (NREFM) is defined as an adult caregiver who has an established familial relationship with a relative of the child or a familial or mentoring relationship with the child. The county welfare department verifies the existence of a relationship through interviews with the parent and child or with one or more third parties. The parties may include relatives of the child, teachers, medical professionals, clergy, neighbors, and family friends.

An online toolkit for kinship families can be found here. Additionally, there are different types of kinship families and those are best explained in this fact sheet. This includes the term, grandfamilies.

Foster homes and foster parents defined by the California Department of Social Services:

A license is required to operate a foster home. The process requires a licensing worker to visit your home and meet with you and other family members. Minimum personal, safety and space requirements are required by law. Foster parents work with social services staff to determine the type of child best suited for their home (i.e., age, health issues, and gender). Foster parents receive a monthly payment to feed, clothe, and meet the material needs of the children placed in their care. Medical and dental coverage is provided through the Medi-Cal program. For working parents, appropriate child care arrangements must be made by the foster parents.

Both kinship and foster families can be resource families. Let’s look more at what the California Department of Social Services shares about this program called Resource Family Approval, or RFA:

RFA is a new family-friendly and child-centered caregiver approval process that combines elements of the current foster parent licensing, relative approval, and approvals for adoption and guardianship processes and replaces those processes. RFA:

  • Is streamlined and eliminates the duplication of existing processes.
  • Unifies approval standards for all caregivers, regardless of the child’s case plan.
  • Includes a comprehensive psychosocial assessment, home environment check, and training for all families, including relatives.
  • Prepares families to better meet the needs of vulnerable children in the foster care system.
  • Allows seamless transition to permanency.
  • The RFA and the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) support the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR).

The RFA process improves the way caregivers (related and non-related) of children in foster care are approved and prepared to parent vulnerable children, whether temporarily or permanently.

The QPI, in partnership with caregivers, aims to redesign child welfare organizations at the local level to better recruit, support and retain quality foster caregivers who can effectively parent vulnerable children and youth.

Together, the RFA and QPI efforts work to build the capacity of the continuum of foster care placement options to better meet the needs of vulnerable children in home-based family care. This increased capacity is essential to successfully moving children out of congregate care, which is a goal of CCR.

While we realize that terminology can be confusing, we hope that this information helps you begin your journey, better equipped to navigate services and resources. We are here to answer your questions, 24/7. Additionally, the service providers that populate your results in our navigational tool are updated weekly. We would like to enlist your help to make these resources as accurate as possible. If you are given a service provider that is not what was represented by your 211 operator, please call them back and let them know so that provider can be researched further. Check back here, as additional articles will be posted twice a month. Again, if you have a topic you would like to see covered, please email us at content@kinshipcareca.org. Thank you for visiting us, for all that you do, and we are glad to be of service to you and your family.

KinshipCareCA.org is a robust, statewide portal with the resources families need most. It is a navigation tool powered by United Ways of California, local United Way members representing regional partners statewide, and a network of private kinship service organizations. We are powered by 2-1-1 statewide resources and proud to partner with California Department of Social Services in serving California’s kinship families By using this kinship navigator portal, caregivers can find both public and private resources in their community to support their families’ needs and well-being.

United Ways of California, the state network of California’s United Ways, improves the health, education and financial results for low-income children and families by enhancing and coordinating the advocacy and community impact work of California’s United Ways. KinshipCareCA.org is a priority initiative of United Ways of California and its partner members.

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