Celebrating the Unique Strengths and Commitment of Relative Caregivers
“I could have let my grandkids go into the system, but in my heart and mind there was no doubt what the choice would be. My family is always first. It was at that point my grandchildren came to stay with me.” ~ Jennifer, Relative Caregiver
Relative caregivers make sacrifices big and small to support their extended families in times of crisis, helping ensure the children impacted can remain with people they know in a stable, familiar environment while healing. The security and comfort of family can help lessen the amount of traumatic stress for children in these situations—whether it be an aunt caring for her sister’s child, a grandparent who has given up their bedroom to take in their grandchildren, or an older brother working hard to keep his siblings together.
Relative caregivers are equipped to love and care for these children in a special way, but they face unique challenges when they step into their roles. Beyond navigating an unfamiliar system and unforeseen immediate expenses, relative caregivers often must establish boundaries with their kin. In many settings, they also encounter prejudice by outside organizations due to existing bias surrounding the biological family. For example, it can be difficult to advocate for children in school settings and in the court system.
At Children’s Home & Aid we walk alongside our caregivers to ensure they have the support they need to overcome these barriers. Jennifer, a grandmother who has fostered her three grandchildren on and off through the years, can speak to the ups and downs of navigating these hurdles firsthand.
“Sometimes you feel very alone. COVID added to the stress this past year. I was anxious trying to juggle work, pay bills, and figure out remote learning with my grandkids. I had to quit my job to support them with school.” ~ Jennifer, Relative Caregiver
Our team partners with relative caregivers during overwhelming times to develop a personalized plan that addresses immediate and basic needs such as food, clothing, diapers and bottles, toiletries, and medication; all provided through a combination of community and state resources, grant funding and the generosity of donors. We also link families to key services like counseling, trauma trainings, parenting tools, and peer groups.
As the right mix of supports fall into place, caregivers experience a sense of relief and eventually, empowerment, which can have a ripple effect on the entire family. Jennifer has found this momentum in her life as she looks to the next chapter and creates a healthier future with her grandkids.
Right now, I’m doing my best to give them permanence and help them trust again.” ~ Jennifer, Relative Caregiver
It is intimidating to say yes to such a big responsibility like fostering. Relative caregivers are incredibly strong, showing up each day for the children they love. Team members like Regional Foster Parent Support Specialist Kristin Cottrell walk alongside these families to alleviate some of the tremendous stress they are dealing with, allowing them to focus on the health, safety, and well-being of both themselves and the children in their care.
“Families know what they need. It takes everybody a different amount of time to heal. Jennifer is breaking cycles for her family. That isn’t easy to do, but she’s committed to the process. Jennifer is paving the path to a healthier lifestyle for herself, her daughter, and her grandchildren.” ~ Kristin Cottrell, Regional Foster Parent Support Specialist
Jennifer, and others like her, bring so much to the table, playing a crucial role in breaking generational poverty and trauma cycles that stifle opportunity and success. “Life is good right now.,” Jennifer says. “The only thing that’s missing is my daughter, but I told her we can’t wait anymore. The children are growing up. They deserve a chance at life, too.”
We consider it a privilege to be a part of the journey with these dedicated relative caregivers who are creating the foundation that will lift their families up and help them to thrive.
Visit our foster care page to learn more about how we work with relative caregivers, foster parents, and birth families. You can also join us on June 8 for our virtual event Breaking Barriers. Centering Families. Transforming Systems., which will examine how to transform child welfare and focus on family well-being.