More than 2.7 million children in the U.S. are living in a household without a parent present.
We often hear from kinship caregivers about the twists and turns that are part of their journeys:
A great-grandfather starts out watching his three great-grandchildren two days a week, and then that care evolves into seven days a week.
An aunt has to pick up her nephews after a parent ends up incarcerated and finds she may be caring for the boys — until they’re adults.
Then there’s the grandchild who needed to be picked up by her grandmother at daycare because her mother entered a treatment program, and the grandmother’s caregiving becomes a year-long commitment.
These are kinship caregiving families — caregivers who end up providing primary care for other people’s children.
The journey is often unplanned, and the road ahead is challenging. Often, it’s hard for caregivers to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
First on the agenda might be figuring out the basics of obtaining medical insurance, accessing financial county resources and potentially obtaining legal custody to secure the immediate safety of the child.
Next, children may need mental health resources or special support to address the loss and grief they feel. Often medical and dental needs may not have been adequately addressed, so caregivers must make and attend many appointments to help kids catch up. Children may also need to be enrolled in a new school and adapt to new peers and unfamiliar environments.
Don’t go it alone
Through this transition and over the long term, kinship caregivers need to take care of themselves to maintain the emotional stamina they may need to address strained family dynamics.
Stress and burnout can deplete the kinship caregiver’s ability to cope. Reaching out for help and asking for assistance is hard, but often necessary.
Kinship Family Support Services, a program of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, can help.
Professional staff can connect caregivers to the resources that can best meet their needs. Educational support groups and workshops are also available to offer emotional support and opportunities for kinship caregivers to share ideas and resources with one another.
In addition, caregivers can access information and assistance — including financial support options, legal services, online training for kinship caregivers and free webinars on kinship adoption — through a statewide Warmline by calling 877-917-4640 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many caregivers who have benefited from the support they’ve received report back to share their gratitude.
One uncle and aunt couple, Randy and Gretchen, shared this note recently with Lutheran Social Service staff:
Thank you for supporting our family. We, in late 2008, were given legal/physical custody of our nieces — then ages 9 and 11. Our nieces are special young women.
We had never been parents, and thought the matter — caring for our nieces — would be temporary, maybe a year.
The program was very timely and helped us, over the years, especially during the time we enjoyed support through a support group. The backpacks, the camp scholarship, the teaching on raising children — it all was invaluable to us.
Our older niece graduated in 2015 and is in college. As of last weekend, our younger niece graduated from high school, and has now moved out to be on her own.
Well, here we are: Thank you for everything. We are now back to Aunt and Uncle status, with both young adult girls deeply in our hearts.
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 (caregivercollaborative.org).
Attend the conference
What: Lutheran Social Service will present its fourth-annual Kinship Caregiver Conference and Resource Fair.
All kinship caregivers are invited to rejuvenate, celebrate, learn and gain a wealth of community connections through educational presentations, information booths, resources and one-to-one assistance from professional staff.
Where: Saturday, Nov. 4
Where: Center for Changing Lives, 2400 Park Ave. S., Minneapolis
Cost: FREE but please register on our website.