BY RACHEL ADAMS, EDITOR, CWLA
According to 2013 data provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, almost 3 million children in the United States are not being raised by their biological parents, but by members of their extended family.More than 2 million of these children live with their grandparent or grandparents; others are cared for by older siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, stepparents, members of their tribe, or godparents. This arrangement is known as “kinship care,” or “kincare,” in which a child’s family member takes primary responsibility for that child—through either formal or informal placement—when his or her parent is unable or unwilling to do so.
Grandparents have unique challenges
Since its inception in 1921, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)—the nation’s oldest child- and family-serving organization—has been working to support, inform, and bolster these specific types of family units. Kinship care arrangements involving grandparents face particular challenges: the grandparent may be retired and living on a fixed income; he or she may have health difficulties or disabilities; other family members may not live close by or be able to assist the grandparent; and the emotional, physical, and legal stresses of raising a relative’s child can prove to be overwhelming. Families headed by older adults need special attention because two often-vulnerable populations are directly affected: children and the middle-aged or elderly.
You are not alone
CWLA strives to assist both grandparents themselves and—for families in which children have been placed with relatives through a formal custody agreement—the social workers with whom they interact. To this end, we have developed training materials and curricula; published several books for kincare providers and social work staff; and host training sessions across the country at which grandparents, siblings, and other relatives raising children can learn about the supports and services available to them, share their stories, and collaborate with one another.
CWLA is on your side
In this New Year, CWLA is channeling its energies toward several kinship efforts. First, we are pushing for the designation, along with the National Kinship Alliance for Children and the New York State Kinship Navigator, of a “National Kinship Care Month,” during which kincare families and kinship caregivers would receive specific recognition. Secondly, we are redoubling efforts to collaborate with kinship families internationally, learning about kinship trends and research occurring outside of the United States and creating new training materials to assist these families. We are reviewing and editing our current publications and curricula, as well, to assure that they have a “trauma-focused” approach—that a child’s negative life experiences are taken into account when educating kincare providers and social workers about their critical roles.
Children who live with their grandparents or other kin have often struggled through upsetting situations; some have never known their biological parent or parents, while some are in kinship care because their previous living environment was destructive or dangerous. Grandparent caregivers, too, can find themselves emotionally and financially burdened by becoming responsible for a child at an older age. For these reasons, CWLA will continue to work to provide the information, supports, and services that help keep these families strong.
Rachel Adams is the editor at the Child Welfare League of America, and edits CWLA’s Child Welfare journal, Children’s Voice magazine, and CWLA Press publications.
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