Providing Support in Kinship Care

When addiction nearly triggered foster care placement for her son’s five children, Virgie Anderson stepped in to claim them.

She never figured on parenting five school-aged grandkids at 74, but she could not countenance strangers raising them. The decision placed the Charleston resident in a little-noticed but increasingly important segment of the child welfare landscape: Family members who take in underage relatives to prevent foster care placement.

In South Carolina, about 74,000 children — mostly African American — live with kinship caregivers. In North Carolina, the total is closer to 84,000. Social services officials increasingly turn to these willing caregivers to keep siblings and families together. But additional support is crucial, since these are often older women battling health and poverty challenges themselves.

Anderson turned to HALOS, an organization in Charleston, S.C., that assists more than 300 kinship care families annually. Working in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, it provides support groups, help for meeting basic needs, and referrals to other community resources.

During the pandemic, referrals shot up by more than 200 percent as these already challenged families faced additional burdens, said Kim Clifton, HALOS’s director. 

The assistance proved critical for Anderson, who struggled financially and faced heart disease and a bout with COVID-19 while overseeing her grandchildren. I was just so glad to be a part of HALOS,” she said. DSS can only do so much.” 

The Endowment supports HALOS with a $420,000 grant aimed at helping it adopt the more intensive Success Coach” case management model for families needing more than just material or parental support. 

HALOS, along with Kindred Hearts (a South Carolina nonprofit that serves kinship families in Richland, Lexington, Sumter, York and Laurens counties), also received special COVID-19 funding from the Endowment to address pandemic-related needs of kinship caregivers. 

After the first grant was awarded in November 2020, HALOS and Kindred Hearts helped more than 200 families with housing, utilities and other support such as clothing, transportation, medical costs, childcare and food. 

With the second grant, approved by Endowment Trustees in October 2021, they aimed to serve another 600 or more caregivers over the next year.

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What is Kinship Care? 

Kinship care plays an important role in the continuum of placement options for children in the child welfare system. Caregivers — usually grandparents, aunts or uncles, or non-related adults who share a strong connection to a child — assume primary care responsibilities after parents are unable or unavailable to do so. 

Kinship caregiving arrangements can be temporary or permanent. They range from informal (parents making private agreements) to formal (legal custody, guardianship or adoption). 

A growing body of research shows that children in kinship care experience fewer behavioral problems and psychological disorders; are able to maintain familial and community bonds, and a sense of identity, culture and belonging; and have more placement stability than those in non-familial settings. 

The federal Fostering Connections Act of 2008 and the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 emphasize kinship care and elevate the importance of kin caregivers, shifting the narrative of their value and requiring public child welfare agencies to strengthen practices. North Carolina and South Carolina are prioritizing kinship care, spurred on by federal legislation, the growing emphasis on social-emotional development, connections to family and community, and the need to improve outcomes for children in care. Both states want to build their capacity to identify kinship caregivers, offer training and support, and increase foster family licensure. 

The Duke Endowment’s Child and Family Well-Being program area has funded projects aimed at understanding the unique needs of kin families and building support. Endowment staff members also participate in workgroups in both Carolinas focused on strengthening kinship care policy and practice.

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