Supporting Reunification as a Kinship Caregiver

Family caregivers have unique ways to care for children whose parents cannot raise them for a season. The pre-existing relationships you have with the child’s parents, regardless of whether they are your adult children, siblings, or another extended family, can make kinship care difficult. You have a story with the parents and at the same time help the child work through his or her story with them.

How can you support reunification as a carer for the child if the relationship placement is a temporary situation? Here are some practical ways you can support the relatives reunion reunification.

Supporting the reunification as a relatives carer

Make a plan with the children’s parents.

This plan should contain clear reunification goals and steps that you will all work out together. Discuss the barriers to achieving these goals. Some of the practical parts of a plan to consider would be:

  • What visits and other contacts look like for each of you
  • Therapeutic support for each of you, such as AA or NA, counseling, educational courses, care break
  • Transportation to and from visits, technology to support video calls, etc.
  • Family vacations and other celebrations
  • Communicate with and about school, medical providers, and after-school activities
  • Gaps in the relationships between you and how to fill those gaps

If you are already in a family relationship and have not yet agreed on a plan, ask the family you were born to discuss it now. It is not too late to prepare to compromise and negotiate already established routines or modes of interaction. Give additional grace and flexibility if you don’t start creating a structured plan now.

Show empathy for parenting challenges.

Set aside your judgments or pre-existing ideas about why the parents are having difficulty clearly understanding their challenges. Instead, communicate that you are “getting” their pain and are ready to join them and work on the problems with them.

Do not put down the birth parents.

Talk about the child’s parents as much as you can. Children need to look up to and respect their parents and you have an opportunity to support this. If you have a negative history with the birth parents, find a safe place outside of the relationship to process these feelings.

Reassure the children that their parents love them.

Just as children need to look up to their parents, they also need reassurance that they are of value to their parents.

Tell parents that you know they love their child.

Parents unable to look after their children can carry a considerable weight of shame and guilt. Let parents know that you are not doubting their love for their children. Tell them that you are telling the children that their parents love them.

Common Family Care Challenges And How To Overcome Them

Don’t put the children in the middle.

Kinship children often have conflicting feelings about their circumstances. Do not place the child in a position where they may feel the need to “choose sides.” These are problems for adults. Children cannot and should not bear the weight of adult problems and shared allegiances.

Make visits a conflict-free zone.

If you bring the child to visit or facilitate contact by video call, do everything in your power to avoid conflict with the born family. If possible, refer to the plans you made at the beginning of your relatives internship. Remind each other of your mutual agreements to have adult conversations with adults. When a conflict begins, try to leave the situation in a friendly and calm manner. Protect the child from being drawn into it.

Work your disagreements away from the children.

Disagreements and conflict are inevitable, especially if you have a messy family history. Disagreements will arise. Refer back to the agreed plan that you created together when the child came to see you. These adult conversations are necessary and deserve time and space to be resolved. Children who have experienced trauma, neglect, or separation from their parents do not understand the feelings of adults. You shouldn’t find yourself in a situation where your loyalty feels contradicting itself.

Black mother and child hugConsider family counseling.

If the parent of your relative is also your adult child, counseling is an excellent support. Longstanding habits can be rewired for a healthier dynamic in your family. Changing your family patterns is especially necessary if trust has been broken in the past or if the same disagreements keep recurring. A lack of resolution to these problems can lead to bitterness, resentment, or despair creeping in for all of you. Unresolved conflicts and the emotions that result from them make it more complicated for all of you to approach future challenging circumstances. Children who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect are often more sensitive to conflict, even if it is not spoken out loud.

Support change in parents.

It is sometimes difficult to believe in a person’s ability to change. However, if only for the child’s sake, try to find something in you that believes these parents can change their lives.

Make an effort to throw yourself behind the parents to support their ability to change. An experienced counselor or therapist can help you deal with your sadness or unresolved feelings in your relationship with the child’s parents. You can then use your energies to believe in them and their ability to be the parent their child needs.

Maintain your connections.

In the foster community, foster parents often stay in touch with the newly reunited family for support and connection. There is already a family connection in family care, but maintaining a caring and supportive relationship after reunification is vital. You have all spent this time working together on healthy changes that are good for your family. Communicating with the child’s parents that you are there for them protects them from the inevitable challenges in life.

We all need to know that someone is in our corner. After the work you have put into this process, constant encouragement and support brings dignity and respect for the experience you had together.

Supporting reunification can be life changing

If your kinship goal is to reunite the child with their parents, you have an opportunity to influence the next generation of your family. As you work with your family to navigate these intricate dynamics, you will see all that families can heal and people can change. New beginnings can be life changing for all of you.


exams article / podcast was originally published by Creating a Family on April 28, 2021. You can find the original article here.

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