In Ohio, over 200,000 children are living in kinship families. Research shows that when they must be apart from their parents, children do better with family whether it be their biological family, or their family of choice such as lifelong family friends, teachers, coaches, or mentors. They do better in school and have fewer physical and mental health challenges. Beyond that, being with family allows children to remain connected to their culture and community. They may be able to remain connected to their friends, their school communities, and their activities.
Over 14,000 Ohio children are currently in foster care, and more of them could be with their family. What does it take for that to happen? It takes intense family search and engagement and then support. Kinnect to Family is a specialized program that operates in over 25 counties. Specialists work alongside children services caseworkers to identify at least 80 contacts for children and engage them. The goal is not only to locate a caregiver who could help but also to co-create a support network for the child and caregiver. Family members may be able to help with childcare, appointments, transportation to school or activities, medical care, or financial support. Beyond meeting immediate needs, family support networks are also about shared roots, your grandma’s favorite recipe, or your favorite uncle’s jokes.
A recent success story from Cuyahoga County illustrates the value of family. Two young boys needed a caregiver after a tragedy. Police brought them to the hospital. Right away, everyone wanted the same thing: for them to be with family that night rather than to enter foster care with people they’d never met. Kinnect to Family Specialists worked diligently to find a cousin within their family network who could care for them that night. By the time they arrived at her house, she had a comfortable place ready for them to sleep. It was so valuable to engage a caregiver these children knew and trusted to help them heal from the trauma they were experiencing. They still live with their cousin, across the street from their school, are connected to their extended family, and rooted in their community.
A recent success story from Fairfield County illustrates the value of both Kinnect to Family and of the Ohio Kinship and Adoption Navigator Program (OhioKAN) which provides one-on-one assistance to kinship and adoptive caregivers across Ohio. Three children under five came into foster care. The Kinnect to Family Specialist searched their family network for people who could care for them. She found that their maternal great-grandmother and her partner wanted to help but were concerned about health limitations. And they needed beds, car seats, and activities. Their specialist was able to provide beds and car seats. OhioKAN provided a baby pool and pool pass. Beyond the immediate needs, their specialist also engaged an aunt on the children’s paternal side, a great-grandfather, and a sister of the great-grandmother’s partner who wanted to help. Together they came up with a plan to provide daily support and take the children some weekends. Those children, too, remain connected to their extended family and are also able to remain connected to their parents while they are apart.
At Kinnect, we believe children have caring and capable extended families that are willing to support their kin when needed. With the right tools and engagement, families can remain united together to support one another.
Shannon Deinhart is executive director and co-founder of Kinnect, an Ohio-based nonprofit dedicated to ensuring permanent families for all children in the shortest time possible and connecting those families with individualized support to meet their unique needs.