September 2022Vol. 23, No. 7Genia Newkirk's Story
When children and youth require out-of-home care, placement with family, known as kinship care, should be our first approach. Kinship care allows children to maintain connections with their families, friends, and communities and preserves their cultural identity. This National Kinship Care Month, I’m amplifying the voice of Genia Newkirk and her story of caring for her brother’s daughter, Nadia, and the importance of supporting kinship caregivers by providing them with the resources they need to ensure the best outcomes for the children in their care.—Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau
I became a kinship caregiver after finding out my brother had a little girl—Nadia—in foster care, which spurred me into action. Nadia had been in four foster homes after being removed from her mother’s care. Even though we’d never met before, I knew taking Nadia in and caring for her was something I had to do. But I didn’t really know how to make it happen. After doing some research on my own, I made my way through North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services’ process and became a licensed foster caregiver in about 6 months. I became Nadia’s guardian in September 2019, when she was 6 years old. Caring for Nadia has changed me. It’s transformed me into really having a heart for children from various walks of life. It’s made me curious about a child’s potential. What is waiting in this child that could possibly bloom into something wonderful? Prior to coming to live with me, Nadia wasn’t in a structured environment where she was disciplined with love. It’s been transformative for me to see how she’s changed.
There is a belief that kinship caregivers can rely on family members for assistance. That is not true in my case. Unfortunately, my family has been unable to step in to offer a helping hand. With that being said, I would like to see the same resources that are offered to foster families extended to kinship families. Resources like respite, stipends, and peer support aren’t always available to us. Just because we’re relatives doesn’t mean we don’t need the same resources. For instance, Nadia is going through growth spurts. While in foster care, the need was met when Nadia grew out of her clothes. When those needs arise now, the kinship caregiver is the sole resource. There is no one to call. There is no one to lean on. There is a distinct difference between the availability of resources for foster and kinship families in my state. While I am clear that foster children are the state’s responsibility, why does providing for children equitably differ between foster and kinship families?
Nadia couldn’t understand that the conditions with her mother were unsafe. I would love to access a support group and therapy to help Nadia process her emotions. Can there be someone there to help us walk through this? It would be great to have a kinship liaison who works to facilitate building the familial bond and assist with working through the new relationship that now exists between the family members. Kinship caregivers need access to crisis-management services. That means workers need to be more available. Kinship caregivers should also have access to their children’s basic needs like food and clothing. Help with family visits and training is needed badly, too. Ultimately, support kinship caregivers in such a way that they know, without a doubt, that their community is behind them.