Richard Dixson and his wife became kinship care providers shortly after their first grandchild was born. They eventually welcomed three more grandchildren into their home. Within a few years, the Dixsons went from nearly-retired empty nesters to a family of six.
Richard has heard countless stories about grandparents who have lost hope while raising their grandchildren. Often, this is due to the lack of physical stamina, financial means, and emotional bandwidth. From his own experience, Richard provides five points that he believes all grandparents should understand about kinship care.
#1: Find Support
Support is not optional for kinship caregivers. Richard often sees grandparents or other kinship caregivers, such as aunts and uncles, try to do it on their own. This will quickly lead to burnout.
Richard encourages grandparents to attend conferences or join support groups where they can connect with others in similar situations. “Sharing stories and getting input from others in your situation is so helpful,” he expresses.
#2: Equip Yourself with Information and Resources
Richard knows that many grandparents or relatives welcome their kin into their homes in informal ways. Richard encourages kinship caregivers to go through the legal system if a child is going to remain in their home long-term.
“Because we went through the courts to get guardianship, we received some financial support,” Richard explains.
Unfortunately, Richard often sees kinship caregivers skip this critical step. “A lot of times, kinship families take in their [relative’s] children because that’s their blood,” he explains. “They skip the court system.”
But as Richard knows, a variety of resources may be available to kinship care providers. Each state facilitates its foster care and kinship care systems differently, so it is necessary to research the support available in your own state.
#3: Know Your “Why” for Kinship Care
Richard often returns to his why: why he continues to find joy as a kinship caregiver. He recognizes the opportunity he has to influence his legacy through the grandchildren he is raising. And he is grateful that he can provide the environment for his grandchildren to succeed.
It has not come without sacrifices. One of the most practical ways Richard embraced kinship care as a grandparent was by changing his diet. With four grandchildren, including two twin boys, Richard knew he needed more energy.
“It’s been very important to have more strength, stamina, and energy,” he describes. With kids who seem to move 100 miles a minute, Richard took matters into his own hands to keep up. Again, he can trace his motivation for these lifestyle changes back to his why.
#4: Understand Traditional vs. Trauma-Informed Parenting
One thing Richard had to keep an open mind about after becoming a kinship caregiver was that traditional parenting methods would no longer work. His grandchildren had experienced trauma. Therefore, Richard and his wife needed a trauma-informed parenting strategy.
Coming to this understanding is something that takes courage and humility. Many people do not want to learn new parenting methods. Richard often hears people say, “My parents raised me this way, and I turned out fine.”
Richard claims that is a myth: “They are going to be shocked by how their children’s trauma triggers their own unresolved trauma.”
How can Richard say this with such certainty? It’s because that was his exact situation. Richard felt that he had turned out fine. “Little did I know how much of the unresolved trauma hidden within me would come to the surface,” he reveals.
“It surfaced with my first three children, and I didn’t know what was going on,” Richard continues.
When his grandchildren moved into his home, Richard realized the importance of adjusting the course. “It became evident that if I didn’t get this corrected, my anger would explode.” Thankfully, Richard found research and resources to work through his unresolved pain so that it did not exude through his parenting.
By becoming trauma-informed, Richard not only began to heal his own wounds but was also better equipped to help his grandchildren heal.
#5: Don’t Wait for Rock Bottom
Richard wants grandparents and other kinship caregivers to be proactive regarding behaviors exhibited in the home. It’s not a matter of if but when things will get challenging.
The brains of children who have experienced trauma develop differently than others. Therefore, those children require a different parenting style.
It can be challenging for parents to admit they need help. Richard finds that there are often two types of people who seek support for their children. The first group has tried everything, and they have been humbled and are ready for help. The second group is stuck in bitterness and resentment about their situation.
Richard believes the solution to avoid unnecessary pain and frustration is to be proactive. Often, there are warning signs that things are not working.
Richard knows from experience that ignoring the warning signs will only lead to more hurt. Instead, it is important to seek help, such as therapy, support groups, and other resources.
Learn More About Kinship Care
If you or someone you know is a kinship care provider, it is important to understand how kinship care and foster care are related.
There are typically four types of kinship care.
The first is informal kinship care. In this circumstance, a biological family seeks help from relatives without involving child welfare. The second type is temporary guardianship. Biological parents can grant this to a relative, and it allows the kinship caregiver to seek medical attention for the child, enroll them in school, and complete other necessary tasks. The third type of kinship care is voluntary kinship care. A child welfare professional may recommend this to a biological parent as an option to avoid going to court.
The final type is formal kinship care, also called kinship foster care. This is when a child is technically in foster care. With kinship foster care, the state has legal custody of the child, who lives with a kinship or kin-like placement.
Not all kinship caregivers are relatives. It is also possible for people with an exisiting relationship with a child to become his or her kinship care provider. These are called kin-like, fictive kin, or nonrelative extended family members. Common examples of kin-like relationships include teachers, neighbors, pastors, and coaches.
To learn more about kinship care and how to support kinship families, visit WaitNoMore.org.
© 2022, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.