When a foster placement occurs within the child’s own extended family network, one speaks of “kinship care”.
This arrangement, however, presupposes that the child’s next of kin (up to four times removed) are interested in taking care of a minor and can prove that they are in a position to do so. Of course, the Social Services also have to ascertain that the foster child and his prospective caregivers are likely to develop emotional ties. In certain cases, the family network itself will have autonomously arranged for a solution, and the Social Services simply verify and approve this de facto situation.
According to recent literature, kinship care appears to possesses a greater “protective potential”. More often than not it allows the child to grow up in contact with its roots and to keep in regular contact with its family, its relatives, its friends. In addition, it is sometimes a way for the Social Services to avoid resorting to multiple placements, a crucial factor that is usually predictive of a favorable outcome.
Minors in foster care within their extended family circle will tend to feel a greater sense of protection and safety. Accordingly, they will be less likely to feel discriminated against or marginalized due to their condition of “foster children” – that is children whom the authorities have forcibly removed from their birth home.
A placement in kinship care requires, on the part of public or private social workers, the same integrated process of preliminary inquiry and evaluation as foster care in general. The quality and thoroughness of these investigations are the same, regardless of kinship.
This being the case, it is crucial that adequate training is offered to the caregivers who belong to the child’s own extended family network in preparation to their demanding role, and that attendance be mandatory.
In out-of-home care, the child is placed with caregivers who do not belong to its next of kin or to its natural family. This approach is usually preferred when it appears advisable to remove a minor from his extended family (albeit temporarily) while at the same time keeping that connection alive in particularly delicate circumstances.
Separation is an exceedingly complex matter and it requires an intensive preliminary work: the child, its birth parents, and the caregivers involved need to be monitored, advised, and supported throughout.
In out-of-home care it is particularly important to make sure that a degree of continuity between certain aspects of the child’s previous life and his life in foster care is guaranteed, e.g. by keeping a student in the same school.
It is crucial to stress that this solution never amounts to a clean break between a child and its parents. Each project, according to plan, is complemented by a schedule of supervised visits and meetings, in preparation to the child’s intended return to its birth home.