Making Connections at the Kinship Care Conference

on 03 October 2017

By Jenna Somerville

Focusing on Trauma and Resilience, Philadelphia’s 4th bi-annual kinship care conference took place on September 23rd. Sponsored by Turning Points for Children, Senator Anthony Williams; the Philadelphia Kinship Care Committee, and the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. The conference addressed the needs and concerns of grandparents and other relatives who have stepped-up to raise children who cannot be with their parents.

The people that I met came to this conference because they have become kinship caregivers:  they have taken on the role of parenting a family member’s child because the biological parents are unable or unwilling to do so. Many Kinship Caregivers do not consider themselves foster parents. Kinship Caregivers often step in to keep the children from going into foster care.

These grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends had noticeably different stories and reasons for attending. One grandmother recounted the time her daughter went out for cigarettes; six months later she has yet to return, leaving the grandmother to care for three children. Another woman spoke of caring for her five children and two of her sister’s children after her sister recently went to jail while her brother-in-law fled the area.

Some stories seemed drained of hope. Because of parental drug addiction, five children were separated into the “system,” including twin girls who went to different places. The children’s grandmother made weekly visits with one of the twins at the treatment center for abused children until her own medical needs necessitated a long term hospital stay this summer. When she was discharged she found that her granddaughter had been moved: her calls to the social worker went unanswered. Because of the technicality that she is not the  legal caregiver, the grandmother may not be able to find her granddaughter again. Yet, she attended this conference to continue her advocacy and to better understand her rights: that she might find her granddaughter again.

Despite the vast differences in their stories, the people living them each had something in common: the feeling of being alone throughout this scary and overwhelming process. They came to the conference not knowing about the helping community that awaits them with open arms; they are not alone.

Each person who was at the conference dedicates meaningful time to become educated about the process that they are going through: to learn their rights, to understand how to provide for the children, and to advocate for these children who, so often, feel abandoned and forgotten.

Trauma and resilience is seen in all of the stories at the conference, and is embodied in the story of Ms. Woods.

Ms. Woods became a foster mom to two little boys, whom she raised alongside her biological children. When they were 10 and 11 years old their biological mother came back and took them. What does it feel like to have children you raised for over a decade taken from your care? I asked. She said it was: “like a death but worse because they are not dead.” The pain of this process made her swear she would never foster a child again. Six years later she was called to ask if she would become a kinship caregiver. To her, this was a sign, and she found the courage to take on responsibility for a 2 year old and a 3 year old. Their first weeks were filled with screams of fear throughout the night. Ms. Woods worked with them, advocating for the children, and getting them the resources they needed. Today they are able to speak instead of scream. Like Ms. Woods, they are not alone.

Regardless of their own situations and needs, each of these individuals stepped up when a family member’s child needed meaningful and ongoing help. Many of the caregivers I met were already done raising their own children and had plans to retire and enact their later life plans. And, once again, they are parents, taking care of vulnerable children who may share the resilience of their kinship caregivers such that they may all grow and prosper.

The Kinship Care Collaborative hosts the biennial conference to inform caregivers of their rights and services available to them that will provide additional support. 

Caregivers can find resources in this booklet: Kinship Care RESOURCE GUIDE.