In October of 2020, there were 2,240 North Carolina youth in kinship placements.
Relative caregivers, also known as kinship caregivers, are a critical resource for children and teens in our state. Research has shown these placements to be better for youth and result in greater stability. In 2020, CHS made a decision to expand the training and support offered to these families through our Caring for Our Own program.
Recently we sat down with Christine Gassman to ask a few questions about kinship care. As a kinship caregiver who now partners with the team to provide support to new kinship families just starting out on their journey, we felt she would be a good resource to describe the Caring for Our Own parent sessions.
“A little over two years ago I went from being single with no children, traveling the world with a fantastic job, to moving to North Carolina and taking custody of my three nephews and one niece. To say that my world was turned upside down is an understatement! I now have legal guardianship of the four children, ages 11, 12, 13, and 14. Taking care of them and watching them thrive in a safe and healthy environment has been so rewarding, but it certainly comes with its challenges. I am excited for the opportunity to support this program, as it was so helpful to me when I was just getting started as a kinship care provider.”
– Christine Gassman
Q: When you first signed up for Caring for Our Own (as a participant), what were you hoping for? What did you need at that point?
A: When I first signed up with the Caring for Our Own class, I was unsure of exactly what to expect. What made me sign up, were the resources and education that were going to be offered. Taking custody of my nephews and niece was a whirlwind, and I didn’t give myself the time to sit down and research the support options available, and the options that I had for a long-term plan for the kids. Within two months I was applying for kinship care and going through all that entails, bought a house, and moved 500 miles away from my home at the time. My blinders were on and all I cared about was getting myself set up to get the kids out of foster care. It was several months after the kids moved in with me, that this class was presented to me. It was just the right time, as I had the kids settled in our new home, we had the summer to have fun and really connect in a different capacity, not just me being the fun aunt that takes them on vacations and spoils them, but as their caregiver and disciplinarian. But what I was lacking, is knowing what this situation looks like long term, what rights I had and would have, financial resources, support for myself as a brand new caregiver to children, and knowing how to navigate through all of the emotions of their parents, the children, and me. My biggest hope on what to get out of the class at that time, was to understand the court process for kinship caregivers, what rights they had, and what I could expect.
Q: What is one thing you got from participating in Caring for Our Own that made a difference for you?
A: I can’t say this enough, but the best part of this class, was the emotional support and encouragement from the instructor and the rest of the participants. It was so incredibly therapeutic to be able to share my struggles, challenges, and positives with others who are in very similar situations. There was a lot of head-nodding as we shared stories, as we can all relate to each other’s experiences in some way. As a single caregiver to my four children, knowing I wasn’t the only one with those feelings and struggles, made me feel less like I was doing it all alone. I also picked up a lot of positive suggestions for challenges I had, as others in the group had already gone through what others were currently experiencing.
Q: Why did you want to be a part of helping other kinship caregivers?
A: Prior to my nephews and niece being placed in foster care, I knew nothing about the system. Being exposed to it, and seeing how it helped my children, makes me want to do anything that I can to support the foster care system, specifically, kinship care. After taking the course and becoming a licensed foster care parent, I have provided respite care to children in foster care, sat on panel discussions sharing my story, and am co-facilitating virtual Caring for Our Own classes. I want to do anything I can to share my experience and the support that I received both from DSS, and from CHS to hopefully convince more family members to step up and care for children in their family who are currently in foster care. It’s a huge responsibility but knowing that there are people out there that are doing it, have done it, and have a very positive success story to share, will hopefully make the decision easier.
Q: What would you want others to know about kinship care?
A: Whatever an individual’s personal situation is, being responsible for children, who have been separated from their parents for whatever reason, is hard. It’s hard in so many ways. But there is a lot of support available to make it work. I was a single woman with no children of my own, who suddenly was the sole caregiver of four children, having to figure out how to manage it all, and it is a lot. It’s overwhelming, it’s exhausting, and it’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever, and will ever do, in my life. Seeing my kids thriving, participating in sports and activities, excelling in school, learning to be kind and responsible, makes every struggle so worth it.
Are you looking for more information about our Caring for Our Own training sessions? Do you have additional questions? We can help! Contact us by completing the form found on this page.