Almost Empty-Nesters Start Over to Become Loving Kinship Caregivers
*Names changed to protect the identities of children in care.
Maya* and her wife Elizabeth* have been kinship caregivers since 2018, caring for Maya’s younger cousins, Tia* and Clara*. In addition to having five older biological children, Maya and Elizabeth have committed their lives to caring for and advocating for their kinship children.
“We just made it happen,” Maya says. “I had to fight for them.”
Currently in her second year of a graduate program to obtain a master’s degree in social work, and working for the Department of Human Services, Maya understands the importance of kinship care firsthand. Despite the challenges Tia and Clara faced at home and the challenges Maya and Elizabeth faced to get the girls, Maya believes it was her responsibility to ensure they receive the love and support they need from family.
“If this is what I do as a career—you know, just working with kids, working in DHS, doing intake, doing assessments, placing children and praying for the best—I can’t leave somebody out here that I know is in that situation,” she explains.
Maya and Elizabeth are proud mothers to all their children and are happy to say they have been supported as parents in the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
“When we explain to people that we’re going to adopt [Tia and Clara], because these are our daughters, we never had anybody challenge us,” Maya shares. “The people we have around us only show us love.”
Being kinship caregivers has been rewarding to both Maya and Elizabeth, and they pride themselves on fighting to get the girls all the services and support they need to grow and thrive.
“Getting them their services has been a big success for us as caregivers,” Maya says. “Getting them the therapeutic services they needed, the educational tools they needed as far as getting an IEP in place, speech therapy, and making sure they’re growing, learning their coping skills, doing their trauma narratives…trying to work through that so when they get to a certain age they can be healed, and not broken as adults.”
Moreover, talking with the girls is important to both Maya and Elizabeth so they can be emotionally supportive. “We talk about everything now,” Maya offers. “We learned in therapy with them that they wanted to know what was going, on because they felt like we were hiding stuff from them, or nobody tells them anything. And I think this is the longest placement they’ve been in—which would be three years—so, we always tell them, ‘You’re safe. You’re never moving again. This is it.'”
When asked what she loves the most about her kinship children, Maya expresses that it’s their unique personalities. “Clara is very strong-willed,” she says. “She’s not taking no stuff and she is so smart. So smart. And Tia is helpful. She’s sweet. I mean, super sweet.”
Maya and Elizabeth enjoy spending time with their children and, while they may not get much time to themselves, they work together as a team to best meet the needs of the family, so they can also take care of themselves.
“To be truthfully honest, my wife and I work really great together,” Maya explains. “What I can’t do, she picks up. What she can’t do, I pick up. So, we’re trying to work hand in hand.”
If given the opportunity, Maya would go through this process again to ensure Tia and Clara are cared for, and advises other people considering becoming kinship caregivers to “do it,” Maya insists. “Especially because there’s some relation there. Never leave a child in need. If you are capable and you have the means to do so, yes, do it. And then my best advice is, find out who the higher-ups are in the chain of command, because you’re going to have to fight to get the services you need,” she said.
“Kinship is fun,” she continues. “It’s been challenging, but I also found with kinship, you have to educate yourself on the rights of the children and the rights of the kinship provider to make sure that the children are getting all the services they need. Don’t settle for ‘no,’ especially when you know something is going on with the child. A kinship provider is the best person to give that information. We know what we see and can identify, if there will be behavioral, emotional, mental health, therapeutic services, education services [they will need]. We see it. We know when a child needs additional services. So, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You have to fight for it and make sure they get what they need. Once you step into these shoes, just know you’re going to have to fight for it. Don’t settle for less. Don’t settle for less, because [the children] deserve it.”