Kinship Care: Quiet Space with Bold Opportunities
Two families exemplify how unification helps not only children, but everyone.
The term “kinship care” describes an experience familiar to 2.7 million families in the United States when relatives step up to raise children whose parents cannot care for them for the time being. “Kinship is a quiet space that requires a lot more attention,” says Shrounda, Director of Public Policy at Children’s Home Society of Washington. She started off caring for King, her grandson, out of what she describes as responsibility. While processing this experience with her community support system, Shrounda developed a seemingly atypical support connection with Amy, a licensed foster parent in Washington. Amara’s video (above) captures the effects of expanding support and resources for the benefit of children. In this article, Shrounda shares with us the importance of community and calls upon a shift in thinking about kinship care.
Q. How did this journey begin?
A. I knew that I needed some help in [making] a decision on permanency for my grandson … I then reached out to Amara and was connected to Amy, a licensed foster parent in Washington. And what I like about me and Amy’s story is that we both started from an agenda. Her agenda was adoption. And my agenda was “can I stay connected.” … I think that it’s so important for people to be honest and not to be [shameful] about their honesty. From that place, what we were able to do is draw other people in. And that’s the power of transparency. That’s the power of people coming as they are.
Q. How has your family’s history contributed to King ultimately coming into your care?
A. I am just going to speak about King’s conditions … Addiction is a piece of that story for my son [King’s father]. What I can tell you is he has come from generational addiction, which means for myself, I was an addict … I recognize that my inability to show up as his mother consistently and responsibly has some impact. It is not all of it, but it certainly plays a role in where he stands today. So, you know, I think in America we have got far more people in addiction that are checking out from the world around them for a multitude of reasons. Some of that childhood trauma, some of that poverty, some of that’s just kind of fair play and, you know, curiosity that at some point leads to full throttle addiction. I do not think anyone wakes up and says, “it is a great day to be an addict.” I think that there are lots of variables that contribute to people being on that type of trajectory. I would say for my son, one of his conditions includes his inability to acclimate into society. He is a Black male. So that means that he is already starting behind. And then you have the contributing factors that I have added as well as moving through systems that are not necessarily incredibly open to second chances. They are all contributing factors.
“It was so difficult to care for King [while also having to] deal with my son’s anger. There were points in my time with King where it was like, you know, maybe he should go somewhere else so that I don’t have to deal with my son being so angry with me when I’m just trying to help.”
Q. In the video you mentioned it took time to process the situation before you were ready to make the decision to raise King full-time. In the eight months that led up to you becoming King’s caregiver, what was going through your mind?
A. Initially, I have to tell you, I was angry and I was also deflecting, and that’s complicated. First of all, parents that are navigating child welfare have their own experience and they’re going through a myriad of emotions. And usually if a child is in foster care, the parent doesn’t necessarily have the primary caregiver to bounce off … I initially dealt with months of my son’s anger and he was angry at himself, but it was towards me and it was exhausting. It was so difficult to care for King and to deal with my son’s anger. There were points in my time with King where it was like, you know, maybe he should go somewhere else so that I don’t have to deal with my son being so angry with me when I’m just trying to help. And then, of course, what I recognize is, is that each person is doing the best with what they have. He had limited tools and limited ways to process. I had to process that and exhibit some grace and some patience, and not personalize his anger.
I felt sadness for King, because I didn’t really know what was going to happen. And, you know, no one deserves to be in peril. He didn’t necessarily know it, but I knew it. I also felt joy – I mean, King is a cute baby! I started to watch him grow into himself. I was just enjoying him. It’s really the first child I’ve ever had in my home where I wasn’t altered. So, I was extremely present. And that was also a new experience. And I really enjoyed that. So, there were a myriad of emotions going on regularly. Caring for an infant while working full-time and being a full-time student is a lot of hard work. And some days I was overwhelmed and tired and just didn’t know if I could really continue to do it.
Q. Can you describe your thought process you mentioned in the video of going from guilt to reckoning to restoration?
A. Yeah, so the guilt is, you know, “this is my fault.” I think if anything works well, or if it doesn’t, for your children you want to assign that to you. I really started to recognize that everyone has their own experiences, and that others play some part, but we don’t play all the parts. And so I had to really work through my guilt because I took on a lot, probably more than what I should have.
Want to read more stories like Shrounda’s?
Then the reckoning really was the judgment. The judgment I had for [my son], the judgment I had for myself, the opinions I had accumulated along the way about each person that was a part of King’s life. Once again, everyone grieves in their own way in their life journey. And what I can tell you is [that] judgement is not helpful in any way, shape, or form. It’s a distraction because you can’t really get to anything.
So the restoration was me thinking, first of all, I needed to give some grace. I needed to give a lot of patience and tolerance and also not assign what was happening as a deficiency to me because I wasn’t deficient in any way. The best way I describe it is that with my own background, I can stay in guilt had I still been getting loaded, but I wasn’t and I had done the work to get to sobriety. My son deserved me being sober and being in recovery, and I had done that. That helped dispel some of the guilt there. And the restoration really is making those decisions based on what you want to do. I think it’s a really crucial point because I think this is where things get lost for people. They don’t understand that, as a kinship caregiver, the myriad of emotions that I just described are happening to a lot of people.
… Restoration was not only for myself, it was for my grandson. He deserved to have someone wanting to be there instead of feeling like they had to be there. And so the restoration was making a decision based on what my heart wanted to do, based on what my faith told me I could do and that I wouldn’t stand alone. I think sometimes we feel like we’re in this thing alone and that’s a hard place to be.
I had accumulated a fantastic community, friends, people I would consider family who were all around me that were also a part of my own restoration. Today I know I can trust a lot of things and people around me. Mainly what I can trust is myself because I know I’m willing to do the hard work and I always have exactly what I need. And that’s really leaning into my faith, which is guiding me to where I am today.
“Restoration was not only for myself, it was for my grandson. He deserved to have someone wanting to be there instead of feeling like they had to be there.”
Q. In the video, Amy mentions how she was “breaking the rules” by developing a close relationship with you and King. Can you explain why the relationship between a foster parent and a child’s family is not encouraged?
A. The greatest resource is human resource. The institution must sustain itself, and one of the ways it does so is how it allocates its resources. Foster parents are essential to upholding child welfare. If folks started saying they wanted to help in a way that truly wrapped themselves around families and not only children. How would the institution continue to operate? I believe individuals that come into foster should be there to foster a family. Instead of being foster parents, we should call them reunification parents. This type of language sends a clear message to foster families, departmental staff, and parents that everyone is there to work diligently towards reunification. And if reunification is not possible, then family preservation becomes primary, and there are a multitude of different ways to achieve that.
… It’s my personal view that the government should not be in the business of establishing relationships. I believe in the power of people and that we’ve got some good sense. When you’re talking about family, family is about connection. The more that we build strong relationships among us, the stronger our community members are [and] the society that we all must live and survive in. And so, there’s no breaking of the rules.
… Some of the policies of child welfare erupted as reactions to certain conditions prevalent in the era. The crack epidemic birthed a lot of policies that were designed to protect children from drug-addicted parents. We today have a lot more information than we did in the 1980’s, and we should use this level of insight to inform the way we interact and respond to family’s needs in 2021; some of these policies are 30 or 40 years old.
Q. Have you found any specific resources for people who are in similar situations as yours and are offering kinship care? Was there any aid specifically to help you move through the process?
A. I’m a savvy person and I knew what I needed, and what I needed didn’t exist. … In my experience, what we offer to kinship is, “Here’s a kid. You got it from here.” And I think it’s incredibly insensitive to the gravity of what’s actually happening for a family. … And so the variance of emotions, circumstances, and situations are very complex and there’s not a lot of aid. If you ask me right now how to access anything for kinship, I couldn’t answer that question for you, and no one has offered it. Anything that I have needed I have had to go outside of any type of system resource and gather it for myself so that I could thrive in parenting.
Q. In what ways do you think the child welfare system or other systems need to evolve so that kinship caregivers get the support they need?
A. The evolution really is just recognizing we all need support. It doesn’t matter if you’re five [years old] or 80 [years old], we all need support. [People need] to know that they’re not alone. As a kinship caregiver, the requirements of the state have been arduous in some respects and very time consuming. The idea that I wouldn’t need other people to lift me up and to help me to continue to move forward through all of this a bit baffling in some respects.
“And what we recognize is that addiction is a disease. It’s not a moral failing. And that, you know, the more caring, compassion, and love that we give to each other, the better off we would be.”
Q. What do you have to say about the organizations that you worked with in creating this video?
A. Amara, Family Connections, and the Washington Court System are partners. They’re partners in the building of a community that was necessary for my family. [The benefits are that] I have a strong and beautiful network … What we need to be able to do is to ask ourselves, how can I help? And that’s exactly what all three of those partners did.
Q. How do communities start doing the work to support kinship caregivers?
A. I think people just decided they want to be a part of it, right? If your agenda is to just foster children, you really minimize your impact. I think we’ve got to be more expansive. The more that I narrow my road, the less likely I am to see who is on the path. And so the building of the communities is really each one of us stepping in. You do not necessarily need to foster children, but can you be a team player in a family that’s maybe a single parenthood? I’m a single grandmother with a 14-year-old and a three-year-old with a full-time job that requires travel. If I had to figure this out all on my own, I might not be able to do what I actually do. I mean, I think that many hands make light work.
Q. What has been your favorite memory with King so far?
A. First, my first favorite memory is when he walked, I can remember where he was. I can remember who was in the house. One of my friends often says, “we’re raising King.” She was here taking videos … I’m intrigued by him daily. Some points he’ll say something, or he’s got some hand gesture or body gesture that he picked up. His last gesture is taking his hand and throwing it against his forehead and shaking his head. Like what’s wrong with you people? He’s just a fine developing kid. Children in development are always a place of wonder because you just turn around one day and you’re like, huh. All right, here we are at this place.