Best Practices for Supporting Kin: Lessons Learned During COVID-19

Stacy Johnson, MSW, JD, Alumna of the Foster Care System,
grandma and grandchild hugging.

Traditionally, the world of child welfare has been one that is unpredictable and rather complicated to navigate.  This year has proven to be a challenge, making resources even more scarce due to a pervasive need for support. With so many grabbing at the same bag of resources, it has become crucial to become creative with how to support those we serve. This blog will cover some approaches to helping kinship families access the supports and resources that they may need. During COVID-19, we have been forced to be more creative and flexible. We should build on this creativity where it has benefited the families we serve.

Understanding

The baseline of your approach in assisting kin families is an understanding of who they are. Remember that you are working with a family, not just caregivers or foster parents. Do not forget to be inclusive in your language and approach when assessing needs. Ask if they or their families have needs. This  includes  the birth parents as well. Understanding this will not only enhance service delivery, but it will also enhance a family’s positive experience in a successful journey to permanency.

Resource Knowledge

Being able to quickly and effectively meet the resource and service needs of kin families supports kids and keeps placements stable. You as well as your team should know the resources that are available in your jurisdiction. Think outside of the box; be mindful to not only look for child welfare specific resource, but all resources that are available to meet the needs of the kin families in that jurisdiction. Know how to use great state resources like the PA Kin Connector, but also create a local resource bank that identifies the lead person who can give you quick answers and resources. You want to have the capacity to meet your families’ needs quickly if possible. Make sure resource lists are available to kin families and that the information is updated.

Ask and listen

Creating open and responsive lines of communication and feedback has never been more important to serving and supporting families. Kinship families are no different. Kin families will express what they need when asked in the right way. You may verbally ask a kin family if they need any additional resources, and they may answer in the negative. Give them some time and keep checking in. Ask in different ways and always leave the lines of communication open. Try texting or surveying to gauge the needs of your kin families.  This is also the opportunity to be mindful of cultural differences in how one may interpret what “need” implies. Reassure your families that needing additional resources is not a sign of weakness or incapacity. All families need and deserve support and our ability to provide it in a way that is respectful and thoughtful is a great strength and builds trust between service providers and families.

Learning through Trends

Tracking may be one of the least desirable things to do with all the other work has to be done, but it is critical, and with today’s technology it is easy to do! When you track the work that you do and the needs families identify, it allows you to recognize trends and have a better way to assess gaps in resources as well as service delivery. Track what you believe is important for the work that you do. Ask your families what they value, and track data that reflects this too. For example, if families tell you quick return calls or texts build trust and reduces anxiety, that is data you should collect. There are various tools that you can use to develop your goals. Quick research can help you find the tools that work best for you. Trend tracking will improve the quality of service delivery when working with kin families and assessing what resources are available for their needs.

Build Trust

Remember to embrace the rapport building process with your kin families. Building relationships of trust and respect is key to supporting kinship caregivers. Remember to listen to what your kin families express they need, respect the uniqueness of each kin family individually, and empower them to be the drivers of the process.

About the Expert

Jennifer Pokempner is a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. At Juvenile Law Center, her work focuses on improving outcomes and opportunities for older youth in the foster care system through policy and legal advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.