On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. Support Groups


"And right away I knew this [support group was] what I needed. I came in there full of denials and I had all kinds of things that [I was] keeping from the other ladies-not being able to admit that my son was a drug addict, not being able to admit that my family wasn't this ideal familyand it was very difficult for me to lay myself out to the peoplebut none-theless I did and now I talk more than any-one."

Most of the alternative programs visited organize or facilitate the development of support groups for relatives (particularly grandparents) caring for kin. Support groups offer caregivers a source of emotional support and practical information. Both kinship caregivers participating in the focus groups and program staff considered support groups a valuable and helpful service.

Kentucky's support group program operates 29 groups and uses the groups for distributing information about available services in addition to providing a supportive sharing forum. For example, officials from Kentucky's State Children's Health Insurance Program have presented at several support group meetings. Denver's program contracts with a private provider, Catholic Charities, to organize its relative caregiver support groups. In Denver, group facilitators noted that the support groups initially focused on meeting primary needs such as food and housing by bringing in community partners who donate monthly food baskets. Over time the support groups have evolved to address parenting skills, dealing with the adult children's substance abuse, loss and grief issues, defining roles and legal issues with experts invited to discuss these issues.

"If it had not been for this group, I would not have known what to do. I would never have lasted."

Support groups differ by whether they are led by professional facilitators or whether they are more loosely organized. The Kinship Support Network's kinship support groups in San Francisco--known as Grandparents Who Care--are peer run by a caregiver who has received facilitator training. A coordinator oversees all the support groups. Kentucky's support groups are tailored to meet local needs. Some of the groups have developed internal leadership with the grandparents running the program.

The San Francisco Grandparents Who Care support groups are held throughout the community in churches and schools and are held both during daytime and evening hours. There are groups for Latino caregivers and one for Korean caregivers. Pittsburgh's program provides support groups for caregivers, children and birthparents. Denver currently has support groups running in three communities with plans to expand into two largely Latino neighborhoods. A program staff member was also organizing a support group for grandfathers.