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Being a kinship carer

Being a kinship carer

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About kinship care

When children can't live with their parents, someone in the extended family or a family friend might become their primary carer. This arrangement is called kinship care, and these important people are called kinship carers.

Becoming a kinship carer

Becoming a kinship carer can be a big change. You might have had no idea that there was a problem in the children's family until the police or child protection authority told you the children were in need of care.

Some kinship carers say it's as if their whole world has been turned upside down.

When children come to live with you, it could be short term or it could be permanent. Sometimes you might not know how long you'll be caring for the children.

Becoming a kinship carer isn't always easy. But you're not alone - it happens to thousands of aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers, neighbours and friends in Australia.

Our printable guide to being a grandparent or kinship carer has essential information about looking after children in your care, as well as looking after yourself.

Your feelings about kinship care

When you become a kinship carer, it can be a time of very mixed feelings.

You might feel relieved that the children will be emotionally and physically safe, happy and cared for with you. But you might also find it hard to go from being the 'fun' person in the children's lives to being the person who has to set rules and boundaries.

As an aunt, uncle, grandparent, sister, brother, friend or neighbour, you might also feel:

  • grief at the death or disappearance of the children's parent
  • 'loss' of your family member or friend to an addiction
  • anger at being placed in this situation
  • shame at the current situation
  • guilt that you're somehow to blame
  • anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

It can take time to accept the change in your family situation. You might like to talk to family, friends or a counsellor about it.

Benefits of being a kinship carer

Kinship carers agree that there are many benefits and joys to raising children, including the chance to:

  • parent children, or parent children a second time
  • be close to children as they grow
  • enjoy children's achievements and celebrate them together
  • help children develop by spending time with them and teaching them
  • teach children about their culture and family.

Kinship care is more stable for children than other types of foster care. It's also good for children's sense of belonging to be cared for by someone who knows them.

As long as that kid doesn't lose their identity and way, they're fine, no matter whose care they're in. Because at the end of the day they're going to come looking for their mob. But at least you know they've got reconnection and know people loved them and they weren't given away.
- Rose, Aboriginal kinship carer

Challenges of being a kinship carer

Being a full-time kinship carer has challenges.

If you haven't raised a child before, there's a lot to learn. If you have other children in your family, it can be a big change for all of you. And if you're a grandparent, you might wonder if you can do it all again. These things can be stressful.

The formal or informal arrangements for the care of the children can sometimes cause you stress too. For example, you might have the care of the children but no authority to make important decisions, or the children's parent might want the children back. This can make everyday life difficult. You might feel isolated and unsure of what to do.

Stress is a normal reaction to changes and challenges. Learning some stress management techniques can help.

Traumatic event
If a traumatic event has led to children coming to live with you, it can cause other problems too. For example, in a crisis children have similar feelings to grown-ups, but children often show their feelings in actions rather than words.

You might need to manage some difficult or unexpected emotions and behaviour, talk about tough topics and support children in the aftermath of trauma.

Law and money
Some kinship carers face legal issues relating to the children's care. For example, you might need to go to the Child Protection Court or Family Court if other family members want to raise the children or have access visits.

You might need to manage your money differently now you're a carer. Costs can be high, especially if children have special needs.

There are legal and financial services that can help you work out what's best for the children and your situation.

Looking after yourself as a kinship carer

Your extra caring responsibilities mean that it's important to take care of yourself.

Some kinship carers have high levels of depression and anxiety and also physical and emotional health problems. With regular exercise, good food, enough rest and medical check-ups, you'll be in better shape to care for children.