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National Foster Care Month 2023 – The Importance of Kin Connections

May is National Foster Care Month! 

The Children’s Home Society of Virginia understands that all members of child welfare play a crucial role in supporting children, youth, and families with foster care experience. We want to take this time to recognize these child welfare professionals – teachers, social workers, community health professionals, criminal justice workers, therapists, and foster parents. Thank you for dedicating your time to keeping children and youth safe from abuse and neglect.

Keep reading to learn more about National Foster Care Month and how you can help foster children and youth in your community.

National Foster Care Month History

National Foster Care Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau. The month of May acknowledges foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help foster children and youth find permanent, loving homes.

Family portrait of African American mom sitting on sofa at home relaxing with multiethnic daughters. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued the first Presidential proclamation establishing May as National Foster Care Month. Since then, each president has made a formal announcement through a Presidential proclamation supporting National Foster Care Month.

The goals of National Foster Care Month change yearly based on the evolving needs of our time. However, some goals always remain the same – increasing the visibility of the needs of foster children and youth and prioritizing foster care as a service to families.

This year, the theme of National Foster Care Month is “Strengthening Minds. Uplifting Families.” This theme calls attention to the need to take a holistic and culturally responsive approach to supporting the mental health needs of those involved with child welfare.

When developing this year’s theme, the Children’s Bureau collaborated with parents, guardians, and young people with lived foster care experience. The Bureau found that the mental well-being of foster children, youth, and caregivers was just as important as their physical well-being.

Mental Health Challenges for Foster Children and Youth 

Over the last decade, reports have found an increase in mental health challenges for children and youth in foster care. These challenges include depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Children and youth enter the foster care system at no fault of their own. Oftentimes, these children and youth have been neglected, abused, or abandoned. The rate at which children and youth are entering the foster care system is sadly rising. One growing reason for this incline is the misuse of and addiction to opioids including heroin and prescription painkillers.

Time and again foster children and youth experience loss, grief, and trauma. Foster children and youth may experience these issues for years to come, which may cause developmental delays, identity formation problems, trust and attachment difficulties, and school trouble.

Every child and youth in foster care is exposed to trauma in some way. Trauma can stem from neglect, domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or a combination of these. It takes time, patience, and counseling to overcome the effects of trauma.

A mental health professional in a therapy session with a teenage girl and her mother.There are more than 391,000 children and youth in the United States foster care system. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mental and behavioral health is the largest unmet health need for these children and youth.

Up to 80 percent of foster children and youth have significant mental health issues compared to 18 to 22 percent of the general population.

Due to the trauma foster children and youth experience, foster care alumni experience post traumatic stress disorder at a rate nearly five times higher than the general adult population.

Furthermore, foster children and youth receive psychotropic medications at a rate ranging from 13 to 52 percent higher compared to youth in the general population. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, investing in culturally appropriate mental health supports that recognize an individual’s identity, culture, and lived experience may improve the effectiveness of services and supports and improve long-term outcomes for foster children and youth.

Other ways that have been proven to improve long-term outcomes for foster children and youth include maintaining relationships with relatives and kin and providing effective training and support for foster parents. 

How Relative and Kin Connections Help Foster Children and Youth

In 2022, only 34% of the children and youth in foster care were placed with relatives or kin. Kin simply means those related by blood or marriage.

When foster children and youth cannot remain safely in their homes, placement with relatives and kin can increase stability and help children and youth maintain a sense of family, belonging, and identity.

When in-home care is not feasible, the inclusion of kin and extended family members in case planning also expands placement and permanency options for the child or youth.

Kinship care can also reduce the trauma that youth face, preserve cultural identity, and has a higher likelihood that siblings will remain together.

In Virginia alone, at least 62,000 children and youth are being raised by a relative or kin, often a grandparent. The Virginia Department of Social Services has been working toward the development of a “kin-first culture.” 

New State Foster Care Legislation

Once a child or youth has been removed from their home, biological parents have a period of time to prove if they can provide a safe and stable family environment for the child. During this time, the child resides in foster care. 

While in foster care, the child or youth may reside with an approved foster family, in a group home, or in kinship care. Placing a child in a foster home with kin is the first option. 

Aunt and uncle in park with their child and their nephewRemoving a child from their home is traumatic. Kinship foster care placements have been shown to be more stable and less traumatic for children and youth. It also can make visits with biological parents feel more natural, which helps heal the bond between parent and child so that they can reunify, which is ultimately the main goal.

Virginia has made strides by changing laws to prioritize kinship placements over stranger foster care. Now, when a child or youth enters foster care, local departments are required to identify and contact potential kin caregivers. Kin also now have a right to appeal a denial of their request to be the child’s foster placement. This came as a result of bills carried out in 2022.

Virginia has also launched state and federal-funded Kinship Guardian Assistance Programs, commonly known as KinGAP. 

What is KinGAP?

KinGAP allows relatives to receive support without first terminating biological parental rights.

Rather than terminate biological parental rights, kin can become legal guardians of children and youth who cannot return to their parents. Therefore, these children and youth will grow up in safe environments without being forced to cut ties to their biological parents, extended family, heritage, and sometimes even their language.

Foster Care Parent Training 

Adoption is a lifelong process. In order to build strong, permanent families, training for foster parents must receive adequate training.

Adequate training for foster parents improves retention, increases placement stability, and increases the capacity to help foster children and youth navigate life’s challenges.

CHSVA conducts our pre-service training several times a year, based on interest from prospective adoptive parents. The training is required prior to the completion of a home study for adoption. The purpose of pre-service training is to provide families with an understanding of how abuse and neglect impact a child’s or youth’s ability to trust others. Topics include: 

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) 
  • Trauma and its impact on the brain 
  • Attachment and bonding 
  • The stages of child development
  • The importance of permanency
  • Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)

Additional training can be created at the request of families. Fees for training vary depending on the topic. 

National Foster Care Month – How You Can Get Involved

How can you help foster children and youth?

Firstly, you can share our blog on your social media pages. Sharing our content increases our reach! Be sure to tag us!

Secondly, go ahead and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Help us get our numbers up!

Thirdly, you can buy wish list items for youth in our My Path Forward Program. These youth have unfortunately aged out of the foster care system. Anything you can provide to help prepare them for this next chapter of their lives would be greatly appreciated.

During the adoption process, parents and children spend time visiting and bonding with one another. We would also appreciate donations in the form of gift cards for family-friendly outings such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, SkateNation Plus, DEFY Richmond, Sky Zone, Chuck E. Cheese, the Science Museum of Virginia, the Metro Richmond Zoo, or local restaurants.

Lastly, you can always give financially. Every dollar makes a difference in the life of a child! If you feel compelled to donate, click the button below.

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