Updated: Nov 24
Without due consideration for alumni feedback, politicians, judges, social workers and other
policymakers have deemed kinship care a “best practice.”
But what if this seemingly logical assumption is not a panacea at all, but, rather, another danger zone; further evidence of the necessity of listening to what alumni know from personal
In our book, Growing Up in the Care of Strangers: The Experiences, Insights and
the custody of kin shared their experiences.
Danita Echols, MSW
“Living with my grandmother returned [me] to the dramatic and traumatic existence I had known years before when we lived in her basement. She could be just as violent with us as my mother was. I could no longer protect my siblings from beatings. My grandmother used the same weapons as my mother did when it came to administering physical punishment. For example, one time when my brother did not move fast enough for her, my grandmother hit him over the head with a frozen 10-pound tube of hamburger, knocking him down. The next day, I burst into tears during class and then reported the incident to my teacher. The court moved me out of the house, but left my sister and brothers with my grandmother. I spent the next several years trying to make it up to my siblings for leaving them, so deep was my guilt.”
Claudette Braxton, LCSW
“Kinship care may work for some foster children, but living with my five-year-older, newly married sister proved difficult for me. I interrupted their marriage at its beginning, and Paulette’s husband let me know it. All communications to me from my brother-in-law came through my sister. I felt so bad that she had to listen to him complain about me. To remedy this, I stayed away as often as I could. I had a best friend who lived down the street. Her house became my second home, where I escaped to lessen the strain between Paulette and her husband. I felt more comfortable there.”
Claudette goes on to describe the kinship care experiences of her siblings, Cathy and Phillip:
“While Paulette and her husband debated how I should live elsewhere, Cathy and Phillip struggled to fit in with the Detroit side of the family. Cathy describes her time in kinship care as a ‘hard knock life.’ She remembers one of her family’s ‘real’ daughters slapping her, and her catching blame for everything that went wrong in their home. She felt like an outsider, not a family member, and that no one cared about her or Phillip.”
Rosalind Folman, Ph.D.
Orphanages are often referred to as the “the Home” by their residents, which is where Dr.
Folman lived before her maternal grandmother finally took her in:
“When I left the Home, the spark of life that ignited there died, as did the little girl who flirted with a sense of belonging … because the differences between my life at the Home and living in kinship care were so stark that memories of the Home probably would have made an already bad situation worse.”
Dr. Folman goes on to describe the disdain she endured in kinship care.
“While I lived primarily in my maternal grandmother’s home, it was a shared guardianship with her six children. My grandmother hoped her children would take me in and raise me as their own, but no one wanted me. In fact, they did everything they could to communicate that I was worthless, unloved, unwanted and definitely not part of their family. I still remember these hurtful words, ‘Even your own parents don’t want you, so you should be thankful that you have a roof over your head and aren’t sleeping on the street.’”
Likewise, the chapter authors in Emancipating from the Care of Strangers: The Experiences,
Insights and Recommendations of Ten Former Foster Kids, had nothing good to say about their
kinship care experiences.
Paul Owen, Ph.D.
“My aunt and uncle did not seem to want me living with them, and I can only speculate as to why they took me into their home, although money could have been a factor.”
Capri Cruz, Ph.D.
“Finally, I thought, we would be a family again, but soon after arriving at my father’s doorstep he drove me to the home of his father and bid me farewell. Just like that, he had come and gone in my life a second time and now I was in the custody of scary-looking old man … Two years later, at age fifteen, I finally mustered the courage to run away from my grandfather’s sexual prison into the world of the homeless.”
Lisa Jean Feinics, Ph.D.
“A judge decided he should be given a chance to prove himself as a parent. Living with him did not go well … Though his new wife was pregnant with their second child; he was having an affair with her best friend… In a fit of rage, my father took a crutch and shoved my stepmom’s abdomen so hard she fell out the door of the travel trailer we lived in. She lost the baby and they divorced … That’s when my father began grooming me for sex.”
John William Tuohy, MFA
“Kinship care is certainly one option, but not the one I’d choose, at least based on my own experience. Living with my father and then my mother toward the end of foster care was a complete bust.”
These seven foster care alumni who lived in kinship care exposed their painful experiences so
that other foster kids might not have to suffer likewise for want of the truth.
When will policymakers listen to the voices of alumni?