Contemporary literature on kinship care emphasises the importance of quality support and assistance to kinship carers. Quality support may strengthen both the stability and effectiveness of kinship placements. The benefits of kinship care can be easily eroded if carers do not have sufficient support (Palaclos & Jimenez, 2009). It has been recommended by several commentators that this form of care requires well-developed policy, frameworks and resourcing (Yardley et al, 2009; Backhouse & Graham, 2009; Warren-Adamson, 2009; Hunt, 2005 in Sinclair, 2005; Boetto, 2010). Kinship care could be recognised as a specialist area of practice.
Argent (2009, pgs.8-10) argues that if organisations wish to support kinship care, a number of issues require consideration:
Does the organisation support and encourage practitioners to explore kinship care as a placement option?
Are family group conferences or meetings seen as an integral part of kinship work? “Family meetings should not be used merely as one-off events to identify possible carers, but to establish ways of working together to support the family’s children. Decisions have to be reviewed, progress should be acknowledged and sticking points must be identified” (p. 8).
Does a service have a specialised assessment process and courses which aim to effectively prepare kincarers?
Are there appropriate financial and other forms of support available to kincarers (formal or informal) which is comparable to non-kin foster carers?
Are the support processes and packages for kincarers accessible, culturally-sensitive and respectfully incorporating kincare traditions?
Are information resources available for kinship carers in their local communities in various languages? Are local practitioners also aware of provisions, support available etc?
(Coakley et al, 2007, p. 106; Burke & Schmidt, 2009; Yardley et al, 2009; Sheahan & Klaassen, 2010, p.14).
Are kinship carers fully briefed and prepared for kinship care: i.e. options available, some of the potential issues, benefits and risks?
Is legal advice readily available and accessible to kinship carers?
Are there strategies and resources (e.g. financial assistance with housing, transport) in place to assist kincarers who take sibling groups?
Kinship care should be supported. Many children who require kinship placements have similar needs to children residing in other out-of-home care arrangements. Well-supported and quality caregivers are essential to heightening the likelihood of positive outcomes for children (Lernihan & Kelly, 2006). The research shows that kincarers can have diverse and high-level requirements. They may be under considerable strain and potentially experiencing numerous adverse effects in terms of their emotional, psychological and familial wellbeing. They may be silently dealing with these issues because of their strong commitment and dedication to a child in their care. Their support needs are clearly evident, but as a group kinship carers are less likely to receive assistance, support and monitoring than non-kin foster carers (Hunt, 2009; Cuddeback, 2004). Kinship carers have reported wanting to be valued, respected, trusted and treated as experts (Murphy, 2008). Educating the wider community on their role is also seen as valuable (see Yardley et al, 2009).
So what types of supports are optimal? Support may be required at any point during the placement but may be particularly needed in the early stages (Farmer & Moyers, 2008). “Although sudden placements often are unavoidable, support, training, and services can be “front-loaded” to help stabilize these imminent kinship placements” (Coakley et al, 2007, p. 107 emphasis added). A number of themes regarding appropriate support have been identified in the literature, which are detailed in Figure 2. Any of these support areas may to a greater or lesser extent be relevant to particular kinship carers. It has been suggested that a framework for identifying different levels of support may be required (Hunt, Waterhouse and Lutman; O’Brien, 2001 cited in McHugh, 2009). Not all kinship carers will require or desire formalised support and assistance. But provision does need to be available. Consultation with a range of kinship carers from a variety of communities and cultural/ethnic backgrounds is required to ascertain differing needs and potential service responses (Hunt, 2005 in Sinclair, 2005).
Support can also come from within the family system and personal links (e.g. friends, community groups, church) as there may be considerable resources and strengths within the informal support network (Burke & Schmidt, 2009).
Yardley et al (2009) also make an important point in relation to supervision and kinship care. From their research they found that for some kincarers the term ‘supervision’ was not viewed positively but associated with negative connotations such as “surveillance and spying” (Yardley et al, 2009, p. 69). A ‘professional’ supervision approach (i.e partnership, sharing ideas, assistance, and empowerment to make the decisions) may be more positively viewed by kincarers (Yardley et al, 2009, p. 70).
Increasing kinship placements
Kinship care offers promise as a good out-of-home care option for many children but is not suitable for all. Some children may not have kin with the capacity and capability to care for them (Hunt et al 2008 cited in Hunt, 2009). The goal to potentially increase the use of kinship care must be tempered with this aforementioned proviso.
Increasing kinship carers is not a simple matter because they cannot be recruited in advance. However, a number of processes (suggestions) can be employed to ensure that kinship placement possibilities are maximised:
kinship care be considered in the early stages of a child’s placement (Farmer & Moyers, 2008)
requesting child and family members to diagrammatically represent (e.g. genogram, ecomap, family tree, network mapping) all members of the child’s family and strength of these relationships. This should include both sides of the child’s family (i.e. sometimes one side of the family is neglected in discussions) (Argent, 2009, p. 12; Hunt, 2009)
use of family group conferencing to assist in the identification of possible kin and collective planning for a child (Breslin, 2009). Family group conferencing can enhance placement stability (Breslin, 2009)
legislation that requires notification of kin when a child is likely to need a out-of-home placement (Rubin et al, 2008, p. 555)
if caregivers receive quality support, training and assistance this can facilitate other potential carers stepping forward. This may be particularly so for recruiting Indigenous carers (Higgins & Butler, 2007)
given that kincarers are often motivated to care for a child due to commitment and love, it has been suggested that recruitment efforts “might appeal to kin’s strong convictions about family values to attract them to fostering” (Coakley et al, 2007, p. 106). Reassurance of kin about the stabilising and positive effects of quality kincare, plus support, information provision and resources available may also impact on any concerns held and thus improve recruitment (Coakley et al, 2007) and
that practitioners be encouraged to be more diligent and active in examining kinship options. Some research suggests that social workers may not be sufficiently initiating kin placements (Farmer & Moyers, 2008; cited in Hunt, 2009) or may be haphazard in their approach (Nash, 2010).
Given that kinship carers have reported wanting to feel valued, respected and seen as ‘experts’, community education and awareness strategies may also assist in boosting interest if the profile of kincare was increased. This could be achieved by strategies such as: kinship care day, accessible information provision on supports available, kin carers mentoring others, dedicated focus for example during child protection week. Although the aforementioned suggestions have not been empirically tested, strategies which have the dual purpose of raising awareness and validating/supporting existing kin must in part assist in recruitment efforts.