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September 2023Vol. 24, No. 7We Thank You, A Message From the Associate Commissioner

Cowritten by Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner, Children's Bureau, and Maria Harker, senior advisor for kinship care, Children's Bureau

Think for a moment about the people who have loved you and cared for you throughout your life—those who have met your physical needs, nurtured your emotional well-being, and comforted you and guided you when you needed it most—whether they are family, friends, neighbors, professors, coaches, partners, or other community members. We all need support. Children especially need care to develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally. They also need unconditional encouragement from family throughout their lives.

Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings, as well as close family friends, have long stepped up to care for children when parents are temporarily unable to do so. It is estimated that 2.7 million children in the United States live with kin caregivers without a parent living in the household. Extensive research shows that kin placements have a higher likelihood of long-term stability. When placed with kin, children are more likely to preserve what belongs to them: their connections to family, community, and culture.

Kin caregivers often start caring for children on a moment’s notice. They receive a call, maybe in the middle of the night, asking them to step up. Life suddenly changes. Daily routines, life projects, and family dynamics need to be adapted to take care of that child. Kin caregivers may also find themselves relying on their own financial resources and support network as they navigate new challenges that can range from managing homework assignments to helping the child’s parents with efforts to reunify. Kinship families are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, single-headed, less educated, older, and underemployed when compared with families in which at least one parent is present.

A “kin-first” approach means prioritizing safe, loving, respectful, and culturally appropriate placements for children with relatives or close family friends while offering comprehensive support to help these families thrive. This approach includes proactively asking parents and youth about their relatives and network, recognizing the various roles that kin can play within the child’s life as main caregivers or as an extended network, and removing unnecessary barriers to access equitable supports. The Administration for Children and Families’ Information Memorandum titled "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding Separate Relative Foster Family Home Licensing Standards" would make it easier for kin to help children in their family by enabling states to adopt separate licensing standards for all kinship foster family homes and requiring jurisdictions to provide kin families with financial assistance that is equitable to nonrelative resource families.

Children placed with kin are more likely to report that they always feel loved. Kin play a significant role in maintaining family bonds, preserving cultural identity, and promoting familial healing, which is what the child welfare system should prioritize when, in the worst-case scenario, a family is separated.

To those kin caregivers who have stepped up to hold the world of a child, temporarily or permanently: We want you to know that we see you. We acknowledge you. We thank you.