Kinship Keeps the Family Bond
By Shaniqua C.
I've been in kinship care ever since I was born. Kinship care is pretty much the same as foster care except that you are placed with a relative instead of a stranger. I was placed with my grandmother, Sylvia Holden, who lives in an apartment building in the Bronx. My grandmother has been my caretaker my whole life. My grandmother is a warm, wise and loving woman. She makes sure that I have the best and am well taken care of. She sent me to a school that has a good reputation, helps me study for tests and encourages me to work hard. I have done well because of her encouragement.
Support From Family
My grandmother also gives me advice on many subjects like boys, friendship, sex, drugs, family and on growing up in one of the hardest times possible. She finds a way to work these topics into any conversation that we have. If she notices that I'm feeling uncomfortable about the conversation, she'll keep talking but turn it into a fun, yet educational, talk. She tells me that just because my environment is moving fast, I don't have to move with it, and that I should always follow my mind, not someone else's. My grandmother always tells me that family is very important and that family should stick together, because when you don't have support from your friends, you have support from your family. She also says that even though my mother is not around, she is still my mother and I should always remember that. My aunts Sheila and Karen look out for me as well. They take me to family reunions, movies and amusement parks. And they try their hardest to take on the role of "mother." When I wrote an essay about how I changed the subject whenever my friends talked about things they did with their mothers, my aunts told me that I could talk about all of the things that I do with them. When I was younger, and sometimes even now when I think about not living with my mother, I start to think that there's something wrong with me because my biological mother doesn't care for me. I haven't seen her in about two years, and she seldom calls. When she does, she stays on the phone for like a minute. To me it's like she never called. But through my experience of being loved and taken care of by family members, I learned that there's nothing wrong with me. It makes me feel special to know that my grandmother and aunts, who were very young when I was born, went out of their way to see that I was placed with them in a good environment. They've sacrificed their social lives (and, in my grandmother's case, her working career) to care for me.
An Unbroken Bond
Sometimes when you get caught up in the system and you're not with your biological family, you don't get to see your family as often as you'd like. Sometimes social workers don't set up visits like they are supposed to. Or because you're moved around so often, you lose contact with your family. It's like the bond between you disappears and you may not act like a family anymore. But with kinship care, because you live with family, that bond doesn't break. In kinship care, you can still learn about your mom or dad despite the fact that they are not around. Your biological family is able to explain why you are not with your parents and answer questions you might have. Even if you don't see your mother at all, you can learn what type of person she was, why she isn't able to take care of you, and you can also see pictures of her. It makes you feel better because you don't go through your whole time in care wondering about who she was and having so many unanswered questions. In some cases, you can learn that maybe you're in care because your parents feel that it's better for you, and you can learn to love them for that instead of thinking that you're in care because your parents don't care about you.
A Valuable Lesson
More important, when you are in kinship living with family, there is more of a chance that it will be your home forever. Family usually wants the best for you, so when you live with them, they will probably want you to stay with them instead of being moved around from stranger to stranger in different foster homes and group homes. For all of these reasons, I think that when a child goes into the system, the best thing would be to try to place the child with a relative, and if that doesn't work out, then the last resort should be to place the child with a stranger. Being in kinship care causes less confusion, pain and leaves no room for unanswered questions. I know that I've learned a lot of valuable lessons from my experience in kinship care-I learned that everyone has the right to be loved; that everyone is a person of value and deserves to be treated that way. My grandmother didn't have to take me in, but she did. She stopped her life to make sure I led a good one. If you can't learn from that, you can't learn from anything.
"Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, Copyright 200X by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc. ()."