Kinship Caregiving & Military Families

Grandparents

Written by: Justin McKenzie, Master of Public Administration Candidate, West Virginia University, MFLN Military Caregiving concentration

Recently, the MLFN’s Military Caregiving concentration hosted a webinar on “What Helping Professionals Need to Know about Kincare.”  Presented by MFLN team members Andrew Crocker (Military Caregiving concentration) and Kacy Mixon, Ph.D. (Family Development & Early Intervention concentration), the webinar provided information on:  1) what kinship care is and how it has evolved as an important caregiving resource, 2) issues relating to caregiver wellbeing and concerns, 3) coordinating care and wellbeing for children in kinship care arrangements, and 4) identifying resources and services that support kinship care families.  Like many of our webinars, you can find a YouTube recording of the webinar on our Caregiving website.

Kinship care is an arrangement in which extenuating circumstances place parental duties in the hands of a relative or close family friend.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these arrangements can be informal, formal, temporary or, voluntary. Informal arrangements are mutual childcare arrangements between parent and the kinship care provider that lack official, legal recognition.  Formal arrangements place legal custody within the state kinship care provider.  Formal state recognition, in temporary and formal arrangements, grant kinship caregivers legal authority to make decisions on behalf of a temporarily absent parent regarding a child’s needs and concerns.

Kinship Care in the Military

Military deployments offer a concrete example of temporary kinship care and highlight the importance of establishing a family care plan before departing. Military OneSource provides helpful overview materials on family care plans and how they can be coordinated within each of the service branches.  A family care plan establishes temporary legal authority to the kinship care provider and provides guidance regarding utilization of military support services.  Additional resources associated with deployment related-kinship care are offered by the MFLN.  The MFLN’s Child Care team offers many resources relating to parenting and caring for kids.

A lesson I learned from the kinship care webinar, is that military kinship caregivers can look to civilian resources to find solutions to common problems. Families should do their best to ensure that children have access to needed resources.  Military family support professionals can play an important role in helping to identify resources and services. They can also help families understand that eligibility guidelines, services, and benefits vary from state to state.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides helpful information through its Child Welfare Information Gateway website.  Common resources for children, especially in formalized caregiving situations, include Medicaid which provides healthcare coverage and others services, and SNAP which helps families with their food needs.

Kinship Care & Foster Care

In some circumstances, caregiving may become more permanent leading to longer-term foster care and adoption.  I recommend the following MFLN blog to provide insight and resources regarding distinct challenges military kinship caregivers face in the foster care process. Additionally, AdoptUSKids offers an overview of the adoption process for military families and provides resources that can be utilized.  Individualized consultation is provided by Military One Source to equip military families with the knowledge required to navigate the complexities of informal kinship care and transitions between informal to formal relationships.

Unique Challenges

For those involved in kinship care, the challenges can be great but so to can be the rewards.  Self-care is important in order to sustain healthy relationships and family wellbeing.  Andrew Crocker, Principle Investigator (PI) on the MFLN Military Caregiving concentration notes,

It is important to maintain a sense of self when entering into any caregiving role, especially assuming primary parenting responsibility for a child that is not your own. The emotional rollercoaster of joy and pain, devotion and resentment, steadfastness and fear; among many others, are best countered by holding onto your identity as a spouse, as a parent, as a community member, a person who has her/his own wishes, visions, values, goals, etc., separate and apart from this new role/identity as a caregiver.

As a veteran, I recognize and appreciate the sacrifice that military families experience as a result of their service to our country. Despite the uniqueness of military culture, kinship care opportunities present with common challenges and solutions that bridge the gap between civilian and military life.

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