#SocialWorkStories with Former Kinship Caregiver Ms. C.N.
Note: Families within the child welfare system deserve their privacy, therefore, we do not reveal their identities.
ASCI: What challenges do you face as a kinship caregiver?
CN: The main challenge would be administering discipline. Let me clarify: I do not use corporal discipline. It was just a fact that when they’re used to their parent, their biological parent, and then I move into the role … from “just Auntie who I see on the weekends where we have loads of fun, but now Auntie who I’m staying with all through the week and weekends who has to provide structure for me and sometimes discipline me.” That was a challenge.
ASCI: How do ASCI’s kinship supports help with those challenges?
CN: Just being there was enough, in the event that something did come up. I thought Victoria was an awesome social worker. She was always professional. She kept all of her appointments. I don’t even remember her even canceling any appointments. She was just present. I think she was also very helpful to my niece, who’s closer to her age. So, I think they connected in that regard.
The first time [I became a caregiver], we had Mr. Rob. He was so wonderful. When the agency had some type of summer event, he came, got my nephews and took them to that event. All I had to do was pick them up. He was very accommodating, even with my work schedule. In my experience, your social workers were very helpful, very professional. They were very accommodating.
ASCI: What questions did you ask yourself before deciding to take in your kinship child(ren)?
CN: There weren’t any questions I had to ask myself. It was like, OK, my family’s in trouble. This is what I need to do. Plus, they were with me on weekends sometimes, so it was never a question. I just felt like it would put me in a position to give them some structure and care that they needed.
ASCI: Do you think your kinship children are better off with you than with a stranger in traditional foster care?
CN: I would like to think so. To me, I think that may be a question to ask [the children]. But I just try to provide love, care, structure. I’m just trying to create an environment where they feel safe, where they feel comfortable. Where they feel like, “this is really home.” Because I don’t care who you are [in their lives], but you can never replace a parent. I don’t care how “bad” the parent is, or how great you think you are; you can never replace a parent. I try to keep that in mind every day and sort of parent in that way. I would never try to replace their mom. I could never, and I would never try. But, if I can create an environment where they feel loved, they feel cared for, they feel supported, or they can feel, “this feels like my home, and what I say matters. I may not get my way, but at least I’m important and what I say matters,” then I think I have done my job.
I try to take care of them to my very best ability. With a stranger … I can’t even wrap my mind around that concept because I just don’t know how I would have reacted if something like that did happen. So, my goal right now is to keep that safe, loving, caring, supportive environment for them.
ASCI: What are the challenges of maintaining a relationship with the birth parents?
CN: For me, there weren’t really challenges. I tried my best to make sure it was an open environment. Even though they were placed in my care, they always had access to their mother, and their mother always had access to them. There were no restrictions, I just had to supervise the visits, which was no problem. I’m an easy-going person and I like peace. So, I operate from the position of maintaining peace. Whatever I had to do to keep that peace, that’s what I was going to do. And I knew them having access to their mom whenever was paramount. Unfortunately, my sister passed away, which is why we moved to adoption. Otherwise, I believe they would have had the opportunity to be back with their mother.
ASCI: What positives have you experienced as a caregiver?
CN: Just seeing those moments when [the kids] are happy. With my youngest nephew, I gauge when he’s happy by him whistling. When he’s whistling like crazy, more than likely he’s content. And my oldest nephew, when he’s laughing, watching his YouTube videos in his own room, he’s happy. Then with my niece, just seeing her accomplish the goals she has set for herself, that is just amazing. I was praising God last night for opening the doors for her. She’s actually 19 and a junior in college, so I couldn’t adopt her, but I’m very close with her. We have contact quite often. She just called me last night because she got accepted into an internship program in Oregon. She goes to Pitt and is studying social work. She graduates next spring and wants to go to law school.
ASCI: What do you enjoy most about being a kinship caregiver?
CN: Just being in a position to make sure that they’re OK … I think that goes with [it]. I don’t think I would’ve been comfortable with a stranger caring for them. And I try to honor my sister’s memory in giving them the best care that I possibly can. That’s what drives me: honoring God and honoring my sister when caring for them.
ASCI: What misconceptions about families in crisis would you like to debunk?
CN: That their birth parents don’t really love or care about them. I know my sister loved and cared for her children dearly. But when addiction comes into play, it makes you do things that you would never have thought you would ever do. She loved and cared for her children, and she tried to do the very best that she could for them. To me, that is the biggest misconception—that they don’t care about their children—and that’s just not true. Addiction, when it takes over, just creates such a monster that you would never believe. And she even worked up until the time she passed away. And they give her benefits, so she’s caring for [her children] even in her death.
So, I think that’s the biggest misconception: that [parents in crisis] don’t love and care for their children. That families are completely dysfunctional, and we’re all not dysfunctional. We’ve all got our issues, we’re not perfect, but the [myth] that we’re just completely dysfunctional, that [the parents] don’t have any education—my sister was a licensed cosmetologist and a certified nursing assistant and was ready to go back for her LPN—she wasn’t that negative misconception. Myself, I’m in graduate school for applied behavioral analysis.
I do feel like people think those things, and they’re just not true. When addiction takes over, you can forget about it. And no one is exempt from it. It can happen to anyone. I don’t care what social class you’re in. It does not matter. It doesn’t discriminate. It is awful. This is an awful time in human history for addiction, because addiction goes beyond drugs and alcohol. It’s not a moral issue. I believe it’s a spiritual issue and a medical issue.
ASCI: What advice would you give someone just starting out as a kinship caregiver?
CN: Make sure you’re caring for the kids for the right reasons. Set up an environment for the children where they feel loved, where they feel cared for, where they feel supported and safe. And, don’t try to replace their parent, because you can’t. I think that’s paramount, for me. Because for me, as a single woman with no biological children, I had the ability to do whatever it was that I wanted to do. Most of the time, I was working and went back to school for undergrad at that time, but now with the kids, everything I do revolves around them. Like with school, I wanted to get into a program dealing with mental-health counseling for graduate school, but I couldn’t because I had to be in the classroom. So, I had to switch to applied behavioral analysis, because I could take all of my classes online. So, everything I do revolves around them.
I think with those three things, a person could be successful [as a caregiver]. And it’s not easy. My oldest nephew has many challenges, but we just take it day by day. I just try my best, and I hope they do feel loved. I won’t know until they get older. But I love them with all my heart and just try to do my best.