“My daughter isn’t speaking to me since the grandchildren were placed with us.”

“I’m not sure whether we should go for guardianship or adoption.”

“Our nephew is still drinking–how can the case manager still be allowing the kids to go on visits to his home?”

These may be themes you recognize from your interactions with your relative caregivers. As child welfare professionals we’re grateful for the connection, safety, and possible permanence that relative caregivers provide to kids who have been placed in out-of-home care. We also know we have unique challenges in assessing and supporting this valuable resource.

The Coalition’s Intro to Relative Caregiver Guide can help you with assessing the motivation, resources, and ability to care for children in the identified relative caregivers. This guide also speaks to changing family roles, permanency planning, and co-parenting issues.

Here’s an example of something your relative caregivers have already had to navigate:

“Relationships with the parent are redefined as the kinship caregiver undergoes a transformation from supporter to primary caregiver, from advisor to decision-maker, and from friend or peer to authority figure.” Dr. Joseph Crumbley, LCSW

We also know that our relative caregivers have likely had to undergo this transformation with little to no advance notice. Our Guide lists many examples of specific feelings or processes relative caregivers may be experiencing, such as:

  • Guilt or embarrassment
  • Projection and transference of emotions
  • Split or dual loyalties
  • Bonding and attachment

On the issue of “split or dual loyalties,” the Guide suggests these possible strategies:

  • Have the relative caretaker answer the following questions:
  • Who is less able to help themselves?
  • Whose turn is it now?
  • Who deserves my help first?
  • Who does the agency need to see me caring for first?
  • Gently remind the relative caretaker that if they try to “save” both the parent and the child at the same time, they may end up losing both of them.
  • Help the relative caretaker prioritize loyalties and responsibilities.
  • Discuss not infantilizing the birth parent with the relative caretaker.

The Guide has many more examples of changing roles for relative caregivers, as well as on co-parenting and permanency planning. We hope resources like these make your challenging jobs easier. Please call or email us at the Coalition for resources, training, and support!