Caring for kids

How to cope when you become a caregiver for a child unexpectedly

grandmother with child

Robin, a single grandmother, was faced with the unexpected need to request custody of her 6-year-old grandson.

Although she’d been his primary caregiver for many years, she said the responsibility of taking on full-time parenting felt overwhelming.

She had so many questions: What legal help was available? Could the county assist with resources for child support? How could her grandson adjust to his new situation? How could she support him through this difficult transition?

With help from an attorney, the school district, county and Kinship Family Support Services at Lutheran Social Service, she tackled each matter one step at a time.

“For myself, being part of Kinship Caregivers and connecting with other grandparents like me was reassuring to know that I am not alone,” Robin shared. “The resource fairs, support groups and workshops are fabulous because they provide the tools and resources that we grandparents may not have been aware of.”

There’s a big need in the Twin Cities for services to these unique families, typically called kinship families.

Currently, there are more than 90,000 children in Minnesota being raised by family members or friends.

Being a kinship caregiver brings unique challenges because children may arrive unexpectedly in the home and may have a variety of physical, emotional and/or behavioral needs based on the circumstances they may have experienced.

How you can help

You might have a co-worker, friend or relative who is suddenly caring for a child while the child’s parents address health issues, mental-health concerns, addiction or other concerns that leave them unavailable to consistently parent.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind if you want to help:

Try to stand “alongside” the caregiver with support and encouragement, not judgment.

Provide concrete offers of respite care, such as, “We are going to the zoo on Friday. Would your Charlie like to join us?”

Help the caregiver reach out for community resources to manage financial demands.

Offer to accompany caregivers during appointments for legal help or aid.

Let caregivers know about LSS Kinship Family Support Services. They can call the LSS Kinship Warmline at 651-917-4640, write [email protected] or see

Getting help

Kinship caregivers may not know where to find resources or what assistance they can access in the community or through government benefits.

Kinship Family Support Services’ family-support specialists can connect caregivers to legal options, financial resources, support groups, workshops and Family Circle Conferences that help caregivers develop caregiving plans for children.

Another helpful resource for older adults is the Senior Linkage Line, which can be reached by calling 800-333-2433 or by visiting

Janet Salo is a family support specialist at Kinship Family Support Services, a program of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. She is also a member of the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Caregiver Service Collaborative (