Department of Family Services – Children, Youth and Families

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
703-324-7500 TTY 711
12011 Government Center Parkway, Pennino Building
Fairfax, VA 22035
Oriane Eriksen

Kinship Caregiver Stories

child hugging adult over shoulderKinship caregiving (raising the children of a relative or close friend) can be filled with joys and challenges. We appreciate the loving sacrifices that kinship families have made to ensure the safety and stability of the children. 

Check out these candid perspectives from some kinship caregivers about their experiences, which have proved to be rewarding, stretching, life-altering, and fulfilling. Learn more about why kinship caregiving is an experience like no other. 

Check out these kinship caregiver stories!

two older adults sitting outside holding babyWhat are the joys and challenges of being a kin caregiver?

This is a difficult question to answer because the circumstances leading up to being a caregiver were devastating to our family. There were many situations that made the Kinship program invaluable. We had never been involved with Child Protective Services, and we had no idea what to expect.

It was challenging knowing that our grandson was not in a healthy living environment, while having to wait as Child Protective Services completed their assessment. We felt shut out. We had no information for several months and were not allowed to see our grandson as his parents shut down communication with us.

We eventually learned that our daughter, her boyfriend, and his parents were working with the Kinship program and the parents decided to include us as part of the care plan. We were elated to say the least.

There have been far more joys than challenges throughout the process:

  • Working with the kinship specialist provided an opportunity for us, as grandparents to bond with our grandson as well as shelter him from some of the chaos that was ensuing around him until things settled down.
  • There were several times when our family conversations were very ugly and our kinship specialist served as a third party. The kinship specialist remained unbiased, was rational, and stated facts that helped usher us to neutral ground and explained terms that needed to be met in order for the parents to be given back their rights.
  • We were able to communicate any questions, concerns or updates with our kinship specialist, and we always received a message of acknowledgment that our message was received, understood, etc.
  • The kinship specialist kept comments made by the parents and by us in confidence when requested. Although this posed a continuing challenge for us, our concerns, views and most importantly our genuine concern for our grandson and our daughter’s safety were met with equal concern and empathy.
  • Our kinship specialist became an invaluable part of our family and ultimately our daughter and the baby’s father embraced the whole Kinship program, got their lives back on track and listened to and followed direction from the kinship specialist. In the end, they didn’t want to have the case closed. The parents could have terminated the program at any time, but they chose to stick with it and benefited from their hard work.
  • Having a kinship specialist in our lives and in our home was not invasive. There were plenty of home visits where the house was a mess, the dog was barking and all of the ugliness that happens in an unharmonious home and he was able to focus on why we were gathered and placed no judgement on the situation.

What do you want the community to know about what it is like to be a kin caregiver?

Being a caregiver provided our grandson with a safe and happy home. It was hectic, our lives were turned upside down, and at times it was exhausting. However, we were able to balance our lives, because we knew the bottom line was to keep our infant (and later toddler) grandson safe. We built a bond with him that will last a lifetime. It was hard with lots of sleepless nights, but day by day things evolved.

We consider our case a success. Our kids are in a better place, our grandson has a home with his parents today, and it took a team of hard working, caring, loving and patient people to get them to where they are today. There were many, many challenges along the way. The police and the courts were involved at one point, but we stood our ground, keeping our grandchild’s wellbeing and safety as the most important thing in our lives.

We had to put our grandchild’s welfare above that of our own daughter. Perhaps things ended well, because we would not back down, we would not allow for slip ups, and if the parent’s cycle had continued, we would have gone to court to seek permanent custody. It was a serious commitment with a great outcome in our case.

What services do you feel are needed?

Honestly, I do not know of anything else that could have been done to enhance the current program. Our questions were always answered and follow up was timely, if needed. The Kinship Care Unit is a wonderful program. In a perfect scenario, our world would never have collided with CPS/Kinship, but it did. I am so grateful for the kinship services and our kinship specialist, Josh Rose. I do not think we would be where we are today without him guiding us during a very dark and bleak time in our lives.

older adult gardening with young childWhat are the joys and challenges of being a kin caregiver?

The joys are what one expects from being with your grandchild 24/7, as are the challenges.

Joys: watching the child grow and develop, seeing the joy of new discoveries, and the love.

Challenges: goodbye free time, little or no time for friends and personal interests, no more travel, dealing with the tantrums and trying to figure out how to keep everything out of reach. I’ve forgotten all of that from raising the birth parent.

What do you want the community to know about what it is like to be a kin caregiver?

Everything I mentioned above. And that it’s not all fun and games. I’ve never questioned myself more. Are we doing this right? Is it wrong to want more time to myself? Is it wrong to resent having to miss out on things and times we had planned for, but cannot have now? It’s a slow transition.

What services do you feel are needed?

I don’t feel like I’m looking for services to help us do this. I feel like it’s more about what’s inside of me and getting in touch with what’s right and what needs to be done and not about how I’ve had to change things in my life. I have to concentrate on the big picture and that’s a tough adjustment. 

two adults sitting on sofa in between two childrenWhat are the joys and challenges of being a kin caregiver?

Being a kin caregiver is a rewarding experience. It comes with its highs and lows, like everything else in life. It’s a blessing being able to care for a child in need, regardless of relations. In our case, from being parents of five wonderful, and thank God, successful and healthy children. As first-time foster parents, we are caring for our great-nephew, a very smart, energetic, curious, funny, sweet, and loving toddler.

Without a doubt, we were ready to take on this journey, to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing home for him. He has brought us so much more joy, laughter, and a sense of fulfillment in all of our lives. Knowing that we were able to lend a helping hand when it was needed, enlightened our hearts. Having a large network of family, friends and resources along the way has helped the process to go a bit smoother.

Starting over with a toddler (considering that our children are ages 10 to 25 years old), was a total shift in life. The most challenging part was going through the paperwork, proving and providing for our own before being approved as worthy foster parents. Reorganizing our lifestyle to fit the needs of a toddler is also challenging, but we have achieved a sense of comfort that benefits us all. We also created stability, routines, and memories along the way.

Some days are better than others, and that’s the sacrifice we were willing to make. We are happy with the way things are unfolding and can’t wait to see what the world has in store for him and all he has to offer.

What do you want the community to know about what it is like to be a kin caregiver?

We would like the community to know that being a kin caregiver is a heart-filling experience. There are many children in need of a stable home, structure, love, affection, assurance, role models and worthiness. Being in the care of family members gives the child/children a sense of belonging and eases the stress of not seeing family members. The community support, like being inclusive and welcoming can also have a positive impact on the child.

Being a kin caregiver can also be disruptive to already established family routines and even relationships. When making this important life changing decision, make sure all parties within the family understand the goals, reasons and all sacrifices that go with it. Routine family meetings just to touch base on new life adjustments are needed to accommodate each member new lifestyle before it gets too stressful. 

What services do you feel are needed?

There are endless services and resources available for kin caregivers, such as medical, educational, childcare, parenting assistance, financial assistance, counseling, etc. Our family has a large network of support like social workers, resource specialists, and many other ways to gain services. When need be, we will utilize these services accordingly. Family and friends along with the community are all great resources and support when needed.

older adult sitting in between two childrenWhat are the joys and challenges of being a kin caregiver?

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” –Aesop

One of the joys of caregiving is knowing that every action to help a child in need is invaluable. Kin caregiving’s rewards are exponential. Not only are you able to keep a child connected to the family, you are also able to keep the family connected to the child.

Our foster son is also our great nephew. His presence in our lives has brought our extended family closer as we rally to give him the sense of belonging and care he needs to thrive. His continued presence in our family increases our commitment to each other and reminds us not to let small annoyances blind us to the importance of family.

“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, not the goal.” –Unknown

One of the challenges of kin caregiving is the ambiguity of timelines and schedules. One has to get comfortable with last minute changes to visitations, prolonged court hearings, and adjusting your life schedule to the whims of the biological parents. Being related to dysfunctional biological parents can complicate one's ability to stay calm and neutral.

What do you want the community to know about what it is like to be a kin caregiver?

“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know we had.” –Tia Walker

Being a kin caregiver is hard and rewarding work. One has to make significant adjustments to daily life as well as life’s trajectory. You need to be willing to embrace the changes with a generous heart and enthusiasm in order to reap the rewards of caring for a child.

What services do you feel are needed?

“If kids come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.” –Barbara Colorose

Are you raising a child for a family member or friend? If you answered “yes,” you are a kinship caregiver, and you are not alone. The Department of Family Services (DFS) assists kinship families who need a connection to services, such as child care, education, health care, and financial help, and are seeking support from professionals or peers. Learn more online.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant