Friends and family first: Keeping kids in their circle of love
Our Kinship Service and Family Finding Team
Finding and maintaining supportive lifelong connections for children is an integral part of the work of York Region Children's Aid Society. If a child is not able to live at home, we look first to extended family. The goal is to ensure wherever possible that children are safely placed with family/kin or someone they know and are comfortable with. We know it is important that children remain connected to their circle of love and support and their community. A large part of a child's identity is made up of the people they grow up with and the experiences they share with loved ones. Our aim is to ensure every child has a network of safe adults they can turn to as they grow.
Across the province, Children's Aid is reducing the number of children in care. Kinship Service and Family Finding Supervisor Kim Sylvester reveals how York Region Children's Aid Society works with extended family and kin to protect children while keeping them out of the care of the agency.
Working with kin — including relatives but also others with whom the child has a connection — when child protection concerns arise is an important part of the work of Children's Aid Societies. Why is this a priority for your agency?
Finding and maintaining supportive lifelong connections for children is an integral part of our work. It is crucial to engage as many people as possible from the beginning of our involvement to help problem solve and create permanency plans, as the goal remains to ensure wherever possible that children are safely placed with family/kin or someone they know and are comfortable with. A large part of a child's identity is made up of the people they grow up with and the experiences they share with loved ones. Our aim is to ensure every child has a network of safe adults they can turn to as they grow.
How do you find potential kin?
When we get involved with a family, we ask parents about their family members and other supports. We use a family finding process where we bring together the parents, extended family, and community. Children are often cared for by a member of the extended family, for example grandparents, aunts/uncles. However, it doesn't need to be a direct relative. It can be a member of the child's community with whom the child has an established relationship, like a neighbour, teacher, coach, member of church/religious community. Once a child was placed with her daycare provider.
How do you assess kin caregivers?
Once potential caregivers have been found, we do an assessment to understand their ability to provide and care for the child. Kin have to demonstrate their ability to meet the needs of a child as if they were the parents in the interim. We also assess their ability to provide for the child long term, if need be. Our goal is to reconnect the child with their parents as quickly as possible, but the hope is that if the child cannot return to their biological parents, the kinship service caregiver/family will give the child a permanent home.
What kind of support do kinship service caregivers receive?
Kinship service caregivers are assigned a CAS support worker to assist the family and support the children placed in their home. Kinship service families may be eligible for Temporary Care Assistance through Ontario Works or some supports from CAS, such as food vouchers and summer camp. But really, these families and caregivers are doing this without financial assistance from CAS.
Placing children with kin came under scrutiny during the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest. How does your agency address the concerns around kin homes in the shadow of the inquest?
We make sure that we follow the Kinship Service Standards and complete as thorough an assessment as possible, which includes interviews with the child and caregivers, as well as conducting child welfare and criminal record checks. It is extremely important to ensure all research has been done and due diligence has been followed. After a kin assessment is complete, the support worker meets regularly with the child and the caregivers in the home to ensure the child is being well cared for.
How successful has your effort been to put kin first?
We are seeing fewer children coming into care. During 2016, we served approximately 150 children in kinship service homes/families. Children are still admitted to care, but when they are, we work diligently to find a kin placement. Even if they come into care for a little bit, we work really hard to find kin and ensure children are placed in homes with people they are comfortable with.