Leveraging the Power of Family in Child Welfare
A message from the CEO: One of the principal declarations in our Blueprint for Impact, which serves as the foundation for the organization’s strategic direction, is that the most important asset for child and youth well-being is the family. During National Kinship Care Month, I’m reflecting on two fundamental questions: what does it mean for families to be the single greatest asset for thriving children and youth, and how does Children’s Home & Aid play a role?
In our work with some parents, we experience relief, gratitude and even friendship. Whether it’s the safe, enriching early learning centers where their children can flourish as they balance the demands of work, or the partnership we forge with parents in our home visiting programs where we share in their child’s earliest developmental achievements, we are mindful of the mutual trust necessary to support the hardest job in the world – parenting.
With other parents, our relationship can be tense from the beginning. They did not choose us, nor do they see our knock on the door as welcome relief. Most often, we are there at the direction of a judge or at the request of DCFS – and our very presence raises the horrific specter of temporarily or permanently losing their children. Our staff meet them during some of the most challenging moments of their lives, and for these families, there is little control over what happens next. I know first-hand from watching our child welfare staff in action how skillful they are at acknowledging the anger, fear and embarrassment parents feel. They are equally adept at using the boundless love parents have for their children to establish candor, build trust and work together navigating a bureaucracy which is anything but simple or friendly. It’s difficult, delicate, and typically punishing work – work too often derided and misunderstood by a public uninterested in the nuance or complexity of supporting families mired in poverty with too few pathways to a better life.
But make no mistake about it – this is the work that is at the very frontier of our aspiration to replace what we now think of as child welfare services with child well-being solutions. This is where investing in family as the single greatest asset of child and youth well-being comes to life. And our team is proving they are up to the task.
This isn’t new. Over the last several years, our child welfare team has implemented initiatives and refined our practice to build on family assets. This includes strengthening and supporting the relationships between foster caregivers, parents, and extended family and community networks. This work began with our Foster Caregiver Mentoring Program launched in the Northern Region which has since expanded statewide. They’ve also worked with their colleagues in behavioral health, early childhood and parent support to integrate new approaches to serve those families with DCFS involvement.
They are also finding new ways to put family at the center of our child welfare practice by launching programs like AKIN: Achieving Permanency through Kinship Placement Investing in Co-parenting with Natural Parents . Started just this summer, AKIN expands our Caregiver Support Team, creating the new role of Parent Partners who work closely with families as they navigate the child welfare system. Moreover, our Parent Partners are staff with lived experience in child welfare, and they bring an understanding of what parents who have come into contact with DCFS are living through. Our Parent Partners provide one-on-one mentorship and work in tandem with child welfare case managers, offering a unique level of support throughout the course of the case. This is the kind of added support we hope to see increase the number of children we safely and more quickly return home each year.
Not surprisingly, our caregiver support and child welfare teams also work closely with relatives and close family friends providing placements for children in foster care. Nationally, nearly 25 percent of children in foster care are placed with relatives, and it’s estimated that many more are being raised by grandparents or other relatives outside of the foster system. Last fiscal year, of the 260 permanencies for children and youth served by Children’s Home & Aid, 68 percent achieved permanency with kin through adoption or guardianship.
This is a powerful and important outcome for children and youth. It’s a result made possible only through the intentional work of actively supporting extended family and close family friends, also known as fictive kin.
But more timely permanency is not the only important outcome made possible through supporting extended family through kinship care. Relative and fictive kin placements ease the trauma of separation from parents, and research suggests children placed with kin are less likely to experience school or behavioral problems and are less likely to be moved to other placements—a retraumatizing experience—than those children placed with unrelated caregivers. This is the power of family, and it’s why we are working to expand and revolutionize how we work with families, meeting them wherever they are and building on their strengths.
When we talk about “ending the need for foster care as we know it” at Children’s Home & Aid, we’re really talking about a transformation, and our child welfare team is leading the charge in reimagining this work. We know we can prevent more children and youth from spending a single day in care, and when foster care is needed, we know we can facilitate more placements with relatives, improving their stability and reducing the time spent in the foster care system.
AKIN: Achieving Permanency through Kinship
Children’s Home & Aid has launched our newest program model – AKIN: Achieving Permanency through Kinship placement Investing in co-parenting with Natural parents. AKIN strives to bring our Blueprint for Impact to life by evolving and expanding our Caregiver Support Team to work alongside families as they navigate the child welfare system. We believe the most important asset for child and youth well-being is the family and this foundational belief is crucial to ensure we are collaborating with families to help them thrive.
We know parents need assistance navigating a complicated foster care system and accessing appropriate resources to support reunification with their children. With the AKIN model, our Caregiver Support Team created the new role of Parent Partners to help fill this gap. Parent Partners are staff with lived experience within the child welfare system who understand parents’ experiences with the system. Our Parent Partners connect with parents to provide one on one mentorship and work collaboratively with their case manager and licensing specialist to support them throughout their case.
One of our Parent Partners shared the importance of this new role for families:
“Being a Parent Partner means providing the support that is lacking to parents and being able to change the system to help reunite and build strong families. Being a support system for parents to gain back their self confidence in successfully raising their child/children. We aim to help parents address their feelings towards the case such as fear, anger, and hurt so they can be their strongest self and be the best parent moving forward. It means to fill the void of emptiness and confusion during a tragic situation. All around being the support piece that all parents have been missing in the system.”
A unique aspect of this new position is the Parent Partners’ focus on promoting shared parenting between the caregivers and parents. Shared parenting is an important step to build respectful, trusting relationships and help families reunify as soon as they are ready. Children’s Home & Aid is a leading agency in the state and nationally on establishing staff roles for individuals with lived experience and working collaboratively with families to transform systems
If you have further questions about AKIN, please reach out to Ashley Akerman, Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.