April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a nationwide campaign to prevent child abuse and neglect and promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families. Previously, we covered how we prevent child maltreatment for young parents.
Children who have been victims of abuse and neglect become involved with the Child Welfare System, and in San Diego County, these children are most often placed with relatives or other supportive adults instead of the traditional foster home model. This unique, but increasingly common, family structure brings with it a host of challenges as caregivers adjust to raising a new child and grapple with resulting trauma from that experience with abuse.
When a caregiver unexpectedly assumes responsibility for a child, their lives change dramatically and, in many cases, permanently. Raising a child costs money and requires significant investments of time, energy, and attention, and statistics reveal that caregivers often take in children on short notice, are offered no training to raise traumatized children, and receive limited financial assistance to meet basic needs.
The Child Welfare System intends to remove children from harmful environments, yet in spite of best efforts, entering into the system can also expose children to negative experiences. Growing up in an abusive environment, being removed from their family, and moving in and out of multiple placements affects children in ways that warrant different approaches to traditional child-rearing practices – namely, a focus on trauma-informed parenting.
YMCA Kinship Support Services exists to strengthen support systems, offering county-wide services to help caregivers preserve the family unit and avoid the entry or re-entry of children into the foster care system. Last year, we served more than 600 kinship caregivers with a menu of services that ensure they are able to provide a safe, nurturing environment that counteracts the trauma experienced by the children in their care.
YMCA Kinship offers:
- Access to one-time emergency funds: immediate, one-time cash assistance helps stabilize a caregiver economically when a child is placed in their care. Emergency funds have been used to help caregivers pay security deposits on a larger living arrangement to comfortably fit the growing family, child care so caregivers can continue to work or meet other basic needs while waiting for public assistance
- Navigation and case management services: kinship caregivers are eligible for certain public benefits to cover the cost of the child in their care. However, applying for benefits is a complex process, and access to YMCA Kinship Navigator to aid in that process ensures caregivers receive all available benefits to maintain a safe and stable home environment for the child in their care.
- Support groups: Many caregivers report intense feelings of isolation after their social circles are upended because peers can no longer relate to their situation. Support groups that are available to caregivers in easily accessible locations and at convenient times provide a consistent opportunity for caregivers to connect with other adults with shared experiences and receive help from one another in the form of: parenting skills training, referrals to child care or other resources, respite opportunities to practice self-care, and play dates.
For children who have experienced the trauma of abuse and neglect, a safe environment and a supportive relationship with a trusted adult are critical to breaking cycles of dysfunction. Relative care, instead of traditional foster care, can offer children these exact factors. The positive outcomes of relative care on children are evident, but the load on caregivers is significant, so the YMCA offers caregivers a continuum of supportive services to ensure the children in their care develop the resilience necessary to become a successful adult.