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Child protection can often think about kinship care as an alternative to placing children in foster care. Kinship placements are seen as having many benefits such as ongoing connection with family, commitment from family to make it work, sustaining contact between parents and children, but reunification with biological parents may be less likely (Farmer & Moyers, 2008, p. 16).  Kinship care may be grandparents, aunts, uncles or more distant family members. However, there is a cost to such placements.

Research published this week by Doley, Bell, Watt & Simpson looked at the impact on grandparents who assume care of their grandchildren. Children who come into their care with behavioural problems (emotional, hyperactivity for example) present the kinds of challenges that diminish satisfaction. 

This work reminds us that we must ensure kinship carers are supported in the role. This can mean respite, specific interventions for the children, supported visits between children and their parents (thus taking the grandparents out of that role) as well as monetary supports. A summary of the research noted

A negative relationship was also found between the availability of social support for grandparents and reported feelings of stress, anxiousness and depression. The authors of the research comment that such a relationship 'is especially profound in light of evidence that custodial grandparents commonly report social isolation and peer alienation associated with acting as a parent to their grandchild'.



Not all grandparents are up to the role. Many will take it one because they don't want to see their grandchildren go into foster homes so they will try to step up to the demands. Yet, they may not really be able to do so. There can be a number of challenges including money, health and the emotional position they may have to their own stage of life. We may be robbing them of their retirement. There will also be grandparents who are keen for the role and well up to it with many who will struggle but are deeply committed to the role. Each case should be assessed.

We need to careful to not make the assumption that grandparents should do it. It may not be the best option for children. It may not be the best option for grandparents. But it may be. Case management should consider both sides of the equation - grandparent and grandchild.

There is a further dimension that needs to be considered which is the nature of the relationship between the grandparents and the parents. If it is not good, the children may be caught in the middle of an already tense family dynamic. That can impact case management.

In essence, this form of placement should receive the same careful consideration as might other options.

References:

Doyle, R, Bell,R.  Watt,B &  Simpson, H. ( 2015) Grandparents raising grandchildren: investigating factors associated with distress among custodial grandparent. Journal of Family Studies, 2015; 1 DOI:10.1080/13229400.2015.1015215


Farmer, E. & Moyers, S. (2008). Kinship care: Fostering effective family and friends placement. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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