With their mother battling substance abuse, the three children were no longer safe in her care. The boys faced placement with a foster family – until their uncle, Reggie, stepped forward.
Almost overnight, Reggie had to buy beds, bedding and clothing, find doctors, dentists and after-school care. The twins had just turned 8; their brother would soon be 9. As a 38-year-old bachelor, he felt clueless when it came to meeting their complicated needs.
Reggie found help through HALOS, an organization in North Charleston, S.C., that eases the transition to kinship care. With a $1.1 million grant from The Duke Endowment and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, HALOS has expanded its Kinship Care Program to provide a deeper level of long-term support for vulnerable families like his.
The three-year pilot began in 2015. Phil Redmond Jr., director of The Duke Endowment’s Child Care program area, says the goal is to help children remain safely with relatives rather than entering – or re-entering – the foster care system.
“Growing evidence shows us that placement with relatives may be a better option than a placement in foster care,” Redmond says. “But many of these families face unique challenges. And despite the large number of children living with ‘kin,’ few services or supports ensure that they are thriving.”
Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, vice president of initiatives and public policy with Sisters of Charity, agrees.
“Family connections are important, but kinship caregivers can feel overwhelmed by the emotional and practical hurdles that come with their new role,” she says. “We wanted to pilot a program that would help families find the tools they need to be successful.”
In the United States, nearly 3 million children are living with a relative because their parent is unable to provide care. In many cases, this “kinship care” is being offered by a grandparent.
Child welfare experts say the number has increased 18 percent over the past decade, fueled by the recession in 2008 and the opioid addiction crisis today.
In South Carolina, HALOS has worked with more than 800 families in a three-county area since launching its Kinship Care Program in 2007. The organization helps caregivers find resources, such as car seats, cribs and school supplies. Other services include home visits, referrals and monthly support groups. Staff members also work to create awareness about kinship care issues.
With its list of clients growing, HALOS zeroed in on urgent needs, says Kim Clifton, the executive director. But short-term solutions didn’t necessarily stabilize a family long-term.
“Kinship care families might think it’s going to be a temporary arrangement – while the parent goes through treatment for substance abuse, for example. And then, three years later, the situation hasn’t changed,” she says. “We felt a lot of families would benefit from more intense support.”
For the new pilot, HALOS is adapting an in-home coaching model that’s been successful in foster care in North Carolina and testing it in kinship homes.
In the North Carolina effort – launched by Catawba County Social Services with support from The Duke Endowment – Success Coaches work with children who are exiting foster care through reunification, adoption or guardianship, and provide ongoing support for the families they’re joining. Available 24/7, the coaches partner with the children and parents to assess needs, set goals, build skills, navigate community services, and prevent or intervene in crises.
Eight N.C. counties now offer Success Coach services.
Kinship care refers to situations in which children are cared for full time by relatives or other adults with whom they have a family-like relationship, such as godparents or close family friends.
In private, or informal, kinship care, extended family members raise children without the involvement of child protective services.
Public kinship care describes situations in which families care for children involved with the child welfare system. Kinship foster care describes the subset of child welfare-involved children who are placed with relatives, but remain in the legal custody of the state.
Laying the Groundwork
In South Carolina, the HALOS pilot is in its infancy. Groundwork included revising the Success Coach training manual and creating a tool to monitor outcomes and assess if families are improving.
“Qualitative data will be important, too, and we’re exploring how parents are feeling, how the Success Coach is feeling, what’s working, what’s not working,” Cooper-Lewter says. “We’re collecting multiple sources of information to evaluate impact.”
Both The Duke Endowment and Sisters of Charity say the collaboration has allowed them to blend financial support, as well as different areas of expertise. It’s the first time the two foundations have worked together from the outset on a multi-year child welfare strategy.
Sisters of Charity had funded HALOS over the years and supporting kinship families was already a priority for the foundation, with Cooper-Lewter leading the work. The Duke Endowment’s Child Care program area focuses on advancing evidence-based practices that promote child well-being, but hadn’t specifically funded kinship care programs.
Both foundations, along with the team at HALOS, saw the potential for adapting, implementing and testing the Success Coach model as a pilot.
“The best way to improve the child welfare system is to keep kids out of the child welfare system,” Redmond says. “Working with kinship care is a way to do that.”
Promising Early Outcomes
At HALOS, one Success Coach has been hired. About 20 families are receiving services, which can last anywhere from six to 18 months.
Early results look promising, with nearly all the families showing improvement on their social and emotional assessments.
Reggie and his nephews, for example, are making progress on the goals they set with the Success Coach. Reggie wants his nephews to build a sense of independence, and he’s encouraging them to explore their interests and make new friends. He’s helping the boys untangle their complex feelings and express emotion in healthy ways.
Reggie is learning positive parenting skills, and has grown more comfortable in his role.
The Success Coach also linked one of the twins to disability services and a health evaluation. She found afterschool care and a summer camp so that Reggie could continue working full time. All three boys are now receiving mental health therapy.
“With more and more children being raised by relatives, it’s important to try to address the specific needs of these kinship care families,” Clifton says. “If we don’t, a lot of children may not get the support they need to grow in healthy ways.”
Learn more about HALOS.
Phillip H. Redmond Jr.
Director of Child Care