Kinship care is in a child’s best interest because it provides stability, safety and support in a familiar environment. In Maryland, kinship navigation can help families access benefits and support while also overcoming challenges.
When you become a kinship caregiver, you partner with the child and their biological parent. That new relationship can challenge family dynamics and impact the child, parent and your family.
The 24/7 care is supposed to be temporary, but sometimes the kinship caregiver becomes part of the permanent solution by adopting the child or becoming their legal guardian.
Kinship navigators can help caregivers navigate the process.
You can also quickly connect with these resources in Maryland by signing up for the free MDKinCares text message program.
Text MDKinCares to 898211.
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Kinship Care Benefits
Why Kinship Care?
More than 2.6 million children are in kinship care, according to National KIDS COUNT data.
Kinship care provides nurturing care from people who already love the child due to their close relationship as a relative or close and long-standing family friend.
As the caregiver, the child may be placed in your home at the request of the local department of social services or through an informal request from the child’s parent if they encounter a serious hardship.
Informal Kinship Care
The informal kinship arrangement may result due to one of these hardships:
- Incarceration of a parent
- Death of parents
- Serious illness
- Parental abandonment
- Substance use
- Serious illness
- Active Military duty
Getting Help And Support
Maryland’s Kinship Navigator Services provide information and support to informal kinship caregivers.
Contact your local Department of Social Services and ask for the Kinship Navigator. You can get information, referrals and learn about community services. Sometimes the agency provides this service or they utilize a community partner.
The Kinship Navigation Program Administration with the Maryland Department of Human Services, recently spoke with 211 on “What’s the 211?” podcast. Trina Townsend said she wants all grandparents, aunts and uncles to know that you don’t have to apply for kinship. You’re already a kinship caregiver if you have a relative’s child in your home.
Townsend has walked these shoes. She was a kinship caregiver, but only considered herself an “aunt” before finding out about the navigation program and benefits.
She took in her niece and nephew when they were teenagers. She went from being a single-parent family of two to five. She remembers the challenges and concerns, hoping she could financially care for the children while also supporting their needs and those of her sister.
Kinship navigators are knowledgeable about resources, support and benefits available to help support the temporary living arrangement.
Nationally, benefits available to kinship families are underutilized. The child you’re caring for may be eligible for Temporary Cash Assistance/Child Only Grant, food stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, child care, health insurance, utility assistance and Social Security benefits.
In Prince George’s County, you can also contact the Progressive Life Center, a private care organization that provides virtual and home visits for emotional support, guidance, counseling and financial assistance.
How 211 Maryland Can Help Caregivers
You can also call 211 Maryland. We’ll connect you to free and low-cost services and support in your community that can help with essential needs and behavioral and substance use support, such as:
- mental health services
- substance use services
- legal support
- utility assistance
- health care
Call 2-1-1 or search the database.
MDKinCares Text Support
211 Maryland and the Maryland Department of Human Services also send text messages connecting grandparents and relatives to resources and support.
- Easy access to information and community resources.
- Encouraging messages
Text MDKinCares to 898-211.
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Given the complexity of some situations that may lead to kinship care, the temporary living situation may challenge family dynamics.
Depending on the circumstances leading up to the temporary living arrangement, the child may need support managing stress or help to heal from trauma.
While much of the focus is on the child, the caregiver and parent also need support. After all, the living arrangement can interrupt the caregiver’s plans, priorities and privacy.
The parents and caregiver may have to confront challenging feelings like guilt, shame, anger, distrust, resentment, and loss.
It can also erode trust within the family. The parent may have to earn back the relative’s trust that they can care for the child.
Both the parent and kinship caregiver may also find it challenging to respect boundaries.
The caregiver should help the parent find the support they need to heal as the ultimate goal is to place the child back in the parent’s care when possible.
Free Training And Support
There are resources to support families through these emotions and situations.
Kinship navigators with the Maryland Department of Human Services can help you find resources and support. They understand the process can be challenging.
Trina Townsend is the Kinship Navigation Program Administrator for the Maryland Department of Human Services. On “What’s the 211?” podcast, Townsend said kinship caregivers often don’t know support is available. She was one of those people. She considered herself an “aunt” but not a caregiver when caring for her sister’s teenage children.
She navigated the challenges and now helps others do the same.
There are other community resources as well.
The Annie Casey Foundation Training series provides tips to help with feelings of loss and ambivalence when a relative comes to live with you. The training series also tackles guilt, hope and denial.
The Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative Center also has a video series to help families learn from others who have overcome kinship challenges for the benefit and well-being of the child.
Finding A Path Forward
You can also work with your local kinship navigator to find a path forward temporarily and permanently for the child.
You should be prepared to help the parent get the therapy, counseling or support they need.
The parent and kinship caregiver are encouraged to:
- Listen and support each other.
- Be honest about needs and concerns.
- Show empathy toward each other’s challenges.
- Acknowledge difficulties for all involved.
While kinship care is temporary, the placement with a kinship caregiver can last longer than expected. Kinship caregivers should plan for that.
If the child is in foster care, the Department of Social Services will work to find a permanent solution. If the child can’t return to his biological parents, the kinship caregiver can become the permanent legal guardian through adoption, legal custody, or guardianship.