Berkshire's foster care team created a new program that provides outreach and support to families in Buffalo engaged in kinship care, an arrangement in which children live with their own family members or close family friends as an alternative to foster care. The new Erie County program is already helping to sustain several kinship arrangements, which provides children with a more familiar and comforting alternative to foster care.
“In kinship care, children are not getting placed with a stranger,” said Amber Lane, Berkshire Family Specialist.
“Usually, close relatives or friends already have a connection with the children, whereas in foster care, they would have to build that connection from scratch.”
In many cases, kinship arrangements do not involve outside supportive services, which leaves room for problems to grow and compound before they can be resolved. These include inability of kinship guardians to handle their own emotions surrounding birth parents, as well as youths’ behavioral problems and difficulty adjusting to kinship homes.
This is where Berkshire’s new program comes in.
Berkshire Family Specialists help kinship families navigate the areas of financial assistance, handling emotions, and help with referral, advocacy and initial trauma screening. Staff also advocate for children, help them fill out financial aid materials, and aid families in getting youth to participate in counseling when needed. This kind of guidance can successfully eliminate the need for placement of children in foster homes by creating a stable, familiar kinship home environment.
Berkshire’s Home Finders have already begun reaching out to kinship families in the county and presenting them with information about the program’s offerings. These include two distinct components of support which vary in intensity to assist families previously going it alone.
“Our team in Erie County wants to reach out to those kinship families, help stabilize them and ultimately prevent the need to move the children out of their homes,” said Hayek.
A helping hand for caregivers
When birth families place their children in kinship care, it is a decision to maintain a degree of comfort in the midst of a difficult transition out of their homes.
According to a New York Survey, there are 131,108 grandparents responsible for raising children in New York State, as well as 87,405 non-grandparent caregivers. Most of these caregivers either do not seek out outside support or do not know where to find it. Berkshire uses grassroots outreach to make the new program visible to families who would benefit from extra support.
“These kinship caregivers are doing the best they can to raise children with no support,” said Hayek. “This creates disruptions and challenges that can cause kids to enter foster care for the first time.” With the right support and guidance from outside services like Berkshire’s new program, kinship care can successfully eliminate the need for placement of children in foster homes.
The support program provides two component levels for families, who will be initially assessed by their assigned Berkshire case worker and placed in one of two levels, which differ in intensity. Along with requirements for regular meetings with a family’s assigned case worker, Berkshire provides 24-7 crisis support. Berkshire hopes that its outreach efforts will continue to direct more kinship families to the new program. The ability to support families and keep children from needing to be placed in foster care has been rewarding for Berkshire staff.
“I like being able to help families and do what I can to keep them together,” said Lane. “Working with families in the program has been really eye-opening, and I hope that we can decrease the number of children going into foster care.”