Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Family Affair - The Birth Family - Extended Family

A few weeks back, I wrote about the fostering extended family - which led me to ponder the birth extended family.  As a disclaimer: I just want to acknowledge my lack of full understanding of this topic, I would LOVE to hear from relative carers, biological extended family members who have taken kids in and those who haven't.  This is such a complex subject and there is NO one size fits all answers...  email me or post your experience in the comments section below.

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We call them many things: bios, bio family, real family, natural family, but for my kids, until a court tells me otherwise, they are simply family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.  Period.   I wonder what my real reaction would be if my niece, nephew or cousin was placed in foster care? Not the cleaned up, nice version, but what would my real reaction be? Since I haven't had that happen, its difficult to know what I would think, what I would feel, how I would act, but I am trying.

Some potential feelings about family members coming into foster care:
  • disappointment. 
  • conflict over taking or not taking the kids.
  • overburdened from years of being the "healthy" family member - especially if you are already caring for other family members children (I have seen this more than once).
  • pressure to take kids when they cannot.
  • Travel into county where child/family lives for family planning meetings, court, etc.
  • "Stain" on the family for having "your" kids in foster care.

Relatives are always the first option for placement of a child who cannot be with their Mom or Dad.  Relatives then have the choice to say yes to taking the kids or no to taking the kids.  Then if family does say yes, there are background checks and a expedited home-study process to get the kids there as soon as possible if its a good match for everyone.  There is never an automatic placement with family, but it is always an option considered.  If children are placed with family members, it is concidered Kinship Care, which can be more informal, or formal depending on the situation.  But its always complicated navigating the maze of family relationships, visits with the kids parents, boundary setting, making new relationships (nephew to foster son, grandchild to child), holidays with Mom and Dad.

There are some situations where family members decide not to take the kids (or are not suitable to take the kids) and then the children are placed in a more traditional foster care setting (like my house).  When kids are placed with non-relatives, other issues arise.   There is generally a lack of communication and visits with the kids as contact and reunification is focused primarily on Mom and Dad.  I am sure there is a degree of wondering how the kids are doing, if they are being taken care of, who it is that is taking care of them.  And if the kids aren't able to return home and are adopted by a non-relative, many times the extended family has no contact at all.

Kids are not raised without a village and many times it is the birth family's village that is left in the dust of adoption and foster care.

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It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa