Kinship Families Provide Critical Care for Children of Addicted Parents

A story by program leaders Rae Glaser and Ryan Johnson

Cheryl (center) and her husband, a young couple with children of their own, raised their three nieces. Cheryl’s sister struggled with addiction, and each baby girl was born with some ill effects because of it. They are now young women in their 20s who are happy and healthy, and all have jobs. Their futures are bright, because this special aunt and uncle took on the daunting job of raising someone else’s children.

Kinship Care is on the rise throughout the country due, in large part, to the opioid epidemic. Like other states, New York State counties are facing a surge in child welfare removals caused by parent substance abuse, and is increasingly turning to kin — grandparents, relatives, even godparents — for care. Counties are moving to engage more kin as foster parents and the number of kinship foster parents has increased — making up about 20% of all foster care placements. However, most often children living with relatives, or kin, are not in approved foster homes, and many counties still heavily rely on “informal” care.

Children live with kin for many of the same reasons that lead to placement in foster care with non-relatives, namely parental neglect, parental substance abuse, parental inability, physical abuse and other safety concerns. Children in “informal” kinship homes experience similar special needs as children in foster care, such as emotional and behavioral disorders, educational disabilities, trauma, and loss.

The circumstances of kinship families are troubling. Children often arrive to a relative’s home having experienced trauma. Caregivers are thrust suddenly into care, often unprepared and without critical resources, leaving them alone to find resources like clothes, food, and beds for the children. The responsibility of raising a child is a heavy burden.

Despite the difficulties, kin provide safe, stable homes for children, where they can stay connected to cultural norms and family tradition and sustain their family identity. In recognition of the enormous value that kin bring to children in our state, for the fifth straight year, Governor Cuomo and the NYS Legislature declared September as “Kinship Care Month.”

While kinship care has been a natural resource for children throughout human history, with the surge in parental addiction new efforts have emerged to promote kinship care as a first-choice option for children in need of a foster home. The CHAMPS initiative (Children Need Amazing Parents) is a national campaign to ensure bright futures for kids in foster care by promoting the highest quality parenting. CHAMPS builds on research that shows loving, supportive families — whether birth, kin, foster or adoptive — are critical to the healthy development of all children. Here in New York, CHAMPS-NY has an active community of foster care providers, kinship providers, and policy experts advocating on behalf of children to be placed with families as opposed to group homes, and stresses the importance of supporting those families to ensure that children remain safe and find stability and permanency in their family.

As communities continue to battle the opioid epidemic, it becomes increasingly important to support the children impacted by this epidemic through collaborative efforts like CHAMPS-NY and other child welfare advocacy groups around the state. With an eye toward the future of New York’s children, we encourage communities to support families who step up to raise children.

NYS Kinship Navigator is a statewide program operated by Catholic Family Center, providing information, referral, and an advocacy network for kinship caregivers across all of New York State. For additional information on benefits and services available to help kinship families, visit the NYS Kinship Navigator website at www.nysnavigator.org or call their toll-free helpline at 877–454–6463 to speak to a kinship specialist.

To learn more about the CHAMPS-NY campaign, visit www.fosteringchamps.org/ny