Pathways for Kinship Families

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kin.jpgOver the winter, ACO piloted a Pathways training specifically for Kinship caregivers in the Simcoe County area.  We often have kin family members in our Pathways trainings. Based on feedback, we saw that there was interest in a kin-only training.  As we started to better understand kinship permanence, we saw that there were many similarities but also significant differences in the journeys to permanence through adoption. 

Our PACT trainers, Sylvia and Laura were excited to begin this pilot and eager to train having already worked with a number of kin families.  During session one, they realized that this was going to be an intense learning journey and that they needed to move slowly in order to allow the group to process the information conveyed through Pathways and the many complex feelings that it generated.

When families consider adoption as part of a family journey, they have spent months, and oftentimes years, thinking through what that means. Often families consider factors such as age of a child, culture, ethnicity, and developmental needs.  They have the opportunity to consider what might work well for them as a family, and as a potential parent.  There are many books, trainings and the “home study” process, which assists them to make these important decisions.

I am now more self-aware of my triggers. I had blocked out a lot about my own trauma and violence in my life. Now, I am thinking about the next steps and where I go from here-do I want to open that pain up and deal with it or do I want to keep it buried. I think I know what I have to do for my granddaughter. I feel supported to do it and I now know the kind of help I need. 

We learned from the Kin families, that they needed to make decisions because they have lost children, or they have children with mental health and/or addiction issues, or children with limited parenting capacity.  Kin families are often asked to plan for permanency without ever having the time to consider future considerations, or obtain adequate training and support to assist them.

Obligation, guilt, loyalty or commitment to family often plays into the decision making process.  Kin families are often retired or near the end of their employment life.  They have planned financially, often not expecting the extraordinary costs of raising a child.  The financial responsibilities have an enormous impact on their future as many kin no longer have opportunities to increase their income due to age, disabilities or needs of the children they now are caring for.

The trainers were humbled by the commitment of the kin caregivers as they journeyed with their own grief and loss issues.  This became a central theme in the training and often pauses were necessary to respect and support the unique journey that is kincare.  Caregivers shared their stories of loss with the trainers and other participants.  Some had lost children, all had lost their roles as grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, or uncles as they now were parents.  They had to place the needs of the children they were parenting before that of their own children.  Some were still grieving the death or illness of their children and having to support their grandchildren through that process also. 

This course has been wonderful. I am learning more about myself. What I am learning about myself is helping my grandson.

As we taught about a shift from traditional parenting to a more developmental attachment based parenting style, participants reflected on how different their parenting styles were now.  They struggled with the shift as they had all already raised children, and were now being guided to consider a different way of doing that.  This also evoked many feelings.   Participants struggled with guilt, some with shame, and all required understanding.  Understanding that some of the curriculum may trigger people’s own trauma histories that for some may have been left untouched for 6 or 7 decades.  Understanding that they struggled with feelings of failure the first time around if their children had suffered with addiction or mental health issues.  Understanding that we were asking them to reconsider everything they had lived and believed for many years.  And also, an understanding how this impacted their families.  We also learned that their adult children had feelings about this new way of parenting that they observed their parents participating in. 

As the trainers began to lay the foundation for learning, they were able to help guide the Kin parents towards an understanding of how trauma and loss impact children.  Coping with the unique challenges of kinship was evident in every session.  Being able to recognize triggers is essential, learning to manage the grief and understand the losses will help them in their parenting. 

I have become very proactive. Early in the training, I learned how important attachment and permanence is and the importance of the child knowing his story, so we told the CAS, that we will be the permanent home. I can’t thank the trainers enough for helping me to see this. I just loved this course. 

Kinship is a unique journey.  Often one that most people would not or could not imagine.  What we learned as trainers was the extraordinary love and commitment that these caregivers demonstrate every day.  We were inspired and humbled by what they taught us and at times overwhelmed with the grief and loss they walked with each day.  We felt that the training and curriculum gave them a new understanding and helped them feel less isolated.  As we trained in a group of kinship only, they could hear their fears and joys echoing in the room.  We could create a safe space of acceptance and a sense knowing for the kin.  For a group of caregivers who are often abandoned by friends and family for a variety of reasons, this training journey helped bridged the isolation with support and the sharing of knowledge. 

Kinship is often the preferred choice for children.  They maintain family connections, language, religion, culture and attachment to the people who know their story.  The Pathways training was an invaluable resource to a group of very deserving, yet under-served, caregivers. 

 Authors: Sylvia Gibbons, ACO Parent Liaison & Laura Banks, Private Therapist