September celebrates the importance and commitment of kinship caregivers throughout our community. Kinship care reflects both formal and informal arrangements for a child whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. Formal kinship care placements occur when child welfare agencies place a child with a relative or close family friend and informal placements occur when parents and kinship care providers decide together, without agency involvement, that a child would do better living with a relative or close friend. Of Virginia’s 67,000 children being raised in kinship care by grandparents, relatives, or close family friends, 4,000 of them reside here in Fairfax County. Of the 191 children we have served year-to-date at Fairfax CASA, 26% currently reside in a kinship care placement. When children are separated from their parents due to concerns of abuse and neglect, kinship care placements not only provide a safe and loving home, but allow children to keep crucial family, cultural, and social ties.
In our advocacy work, our priority is the child. And for children, we understand that they grow and thrive best with their families of origin, when possible. When a CASA begins a case with a new child, their goal for permanency is to see that child returned to their parents or original caregivers, Simultaneously, CASAs work with the child’s team to identify familial kin who can serve as supports for the child and family, and who could be a potential placement option for the child. If it is determined that it is not safe for a child to return to their parents or original caregiver, CASAs advocate for children to be placed in safe, loving, and permanent homes with familial kin, whenever possible.
Outside of Fairfax CASA, our partners in the community are also prioritizing kinship care placements for children overcoming abuse and neglect. The Fairfax County Department of Family Services is “committed to making sure that children who are separated from their parents and enter foster care are placed in family-like settings.” They provide Kinship Resources that include trainings, workshops, and communal ‘Kinship Cafes’ to best prepare and support kinship caregivers and connect them to others in their unique situation. The General Assembly of Virginia is also supporting kinship caregivers at the legislative and policy level. This past July, two new laws went into effect that positively supports kinship providers. HB1962 requires the inclusion of relatives and other familial kin during a child’s foster care planning. SB1328 creates a state-funded Kinship Guardianship financial assistance program in which kinship caregivers can receive supportive funds to aid them in providing a safe, loving, and nurturing home for the children in their homes.
We can all do our part to support kinship caregivers in our community. Spread awareness of both formal and informal kinship care placements and how they benefit children. Discuss and normalize kinship care arrangements. Supporting kinship providers empower both caregivers and children affected by these placements. Include kinship caregivers and the children they raise in our social circles and be a supportive, non-judgmental listener. Offer kin caregivers help with grocery or school shopping, or other assistance. Simple supports like making the family a homemade meal or offering to babysit can make a big difference. Together, we can show support and appreciation to these dedicated individuals providing safe and loving homes to children in our community who deserve it most.