ASCI Presents: A Lived Experience Story
During the month of September, we recognize National Kinship Care Month and National Grandparents Day. To truly understand kinship care, we must always listen to the irreplaceable insights that the lived experience of caregivers, birth parents, and children can offer to make the narrative authentic, and programming more meaningful. To respect the privacy of our families, we are not using actual names.
Tell us about your journey in becoming a kinship caregiver.
Anonymous Caregiver (AC): Being a kin caregiver is a rewarding experience. It comes with its highs and lows, like everything else in life. It is a blessing being able to care for my four grandchildren in need. In my case, being a woman of a particular age group, I was grateful God afforded me the strength and knowledge to take on the serious responsibility of caring for a mother’s children while she is caring for herself. This journey began for me on Friday, April 9, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. when I received a call from Allegheny County Children Youth and Families inquiring if I would not only take my two grandchildren but also their two siblings. Not wanting the siblings to be separated, I replied yes. At 11:30 p.m. when the children were dropped off after completing their exit physicals, My Life Changed. I am now caring for three pre-teens and a 3-year-old youth. I prayed Lord Give Me Strength. I am so grateful they are all, very smart, energetic, curious, funny, sweet, and loving children.
Without a doubt, my siblings and I were ready to go on this journey, providing a safe, loving, and nurturing home. They have brought so much joy, laughter, and a sense of fulfillment in all our lives. Knowing that we were able to lend a helping hand when it was needed, enlightened our hearts. Having a large network of family, friends, and resources along the way has helped the process to go a bit smoother. I love KidsVoice!
What does kinship care mean to you and why is it important?
AC: Being a kin caregiver is a heart-filling experience. Providing a stable home, structured environment, love, affection, assurance, role models and worthiness to a family member in need is rewarding. Children are already traumatized by the removal process; however, I believe having the assurance of being placed with a family member or someone who has a relationship and bond with a child(ren) lessens the fear and uncertainty they must be experiencing. Being in the care of family members gives the child(ren) a sense of belonging and eases the stress of them not being with their mom whom they love.
However, being a kin caregiver can also be disruptive to already established family routines and even relationships. When making this important and life changing decision, make sure all parties within the family understand the goals, reasons, and all sacrifices that go with it. I am so grateful for my Village. We have been through a lot; however, we would not have wanted it any other way.
Tell us about your support system.
AC: I would not have been able to survive without my support system … family, friends, Kids Voice, ASCI, and The KEEP Program. My family is there with me daily ensuring the safety and well-being of the children. When I was going through the most trying part of this journey, my family and ASCI staff/leadership were there encouraging me and reminding me this is mental health warfare. My NOW village with the exception of Kids Voice has become stable. Having a consistent caseworker/FST driver is vital during this process. My children would always question what’s the caseworker’s name coming this time? Our caseworker(s) is always changing, so why get attached. They love Ms. Lori, Ms. Dana, and Mr. Jeff and are very open with all of them.
What advice would you have for kinship caregivers?
AC: If I could help another kinship caregiver starting this journey, here is what I would say … as rewarding as this journey is, there will be challenges and you will experience moments when you want to give up. But, if you just hold on and maintain time for you to enter your secret place, calmness will come. Self-care is extremely important. Do not lose yourself and take time to maintain your well-being.
I would teach them about their strengths, maintain time for their self-care and family time, and tell them about the importance of building relationships with all agencies involved in this journey, especially with their Kids Voice attorney/advocate. Always knowing the end goal and what is required for all parties to get there. Do not be afraid to advocate on behalf of your loved ones.
This journey has truly been an eye opener for me. Kinship caregiver must be educated on the systems and how they work. Most importantly, I would advise as intrusive as this process is going to be, the smile and memories being created for my grandchildren are priceless.