Redefining Roles and Boundaries


dfcs-0322When you make the decision to become a relative/kinship caregiver, the existing roles and boundaries in your family will change when the child comes to live with you and you take on the role of parent. You may go:

From friend or equal to authority figure  Is one of the parents a close friend or relative? These relationships imply equality, with neither person having control or authority over the other person’s life. Once you become a kinship foster parent, you will make decisions normally made by the parents. This will complicate your relationship with the parents and may be a difficult adjustment for the child to make.

From bystander to responsible decision maker  Relatives do not always have close relationships. You might only see the child and parents at family get-togethers or may not have seen them in years. You may go from playing a minor or non-existent role in the child’s life to playing a major one. Not everyone will be comfortable with this shift.

From non-competitor to competitor Even if it is not your intention, you may find yourself competing with the parents and other family members for the child’s affection and authority.

From grandparent, aunt, or cousin to “parent”  Being a relative is very different from being a parent. Relatives don’t normally discipline children or provide for essential needs. Often, they do fun things with the child. Respect is assumed. When a relative takes on the role of parent, it can be a hard shift for both the relative and child to make.

From ally to enemy  Kinship foster parents often find themselves in the difficult position of being between their families and DFCS. Once the department intervenes, DFCS is often seen as the “enemy”. When you become involved as the child’s caregiver, the parents and other family members may see you as being on DFCS’s side. You might be insulted by, or even isolated from, some family members.

It may seem that you constantly have to prove that you have the child’s best interests at heart.

Below are some tips for managing this delicate balancing act.

dfcs-0305Focus on the child’s best interests. It’s all about the child. He/she needs a safe place to live while in DFCS custody, where his or her emotional, medical, physical, and educational needs will be met.

Recognize that strong feelings are normal. It’s normal for parents to be angry and confused when they are separated from their children. Understand that these reactions are normal, even if they are directed at you.

Learn what the law requires DFCS to do to keep children safe  Understanding what our legal responsibilities are will help you better understand why we do what we do and what we need from you. Your role is to provide day-to-day care for the child, while ours is to work with the parents.

Be aware of your own feelings and opinions  How do you feel about the child being in DFCS custody? Do you believe the abuse happened? Recognize that it will be difficult for you to work with DFCS if you have a different opinion about what led to our involvement.