May is National Foster Care Month. And this year the focus is on kinship care and reunion with bio families (biological or birth families) where possible. This post explores the idea that neighbors can be considered as kin for the purposes of “keeping families together.”
Kinship care is traditionally thought of as biological relatives on the kids parents side including grandparents, uncles and aunts. Extensions of the concept of kin in foster care research includes godparents and close family friends. The main reason to favor kinship placement is not to disturb the child’s cultural identity and thus provide stability. We argue that many neighborhoods may provide many of the same benefits as “blood” relatives for the foster child.
Neighbors play different roles in different cultures across the world. In high rise residential buildings neighbors can be pretty insulated from each other, except to just say “hello” on the elevator or lobby. On the other hand communities are pretty well knit in rural or even city low rise apartments. Everyone knows everyone else and folks connect at the community gatherings (eg. playground, community fairs, school or town meetings, neighborhood facebook groups, church etc.) or simply talk to each other at the porch. In many cultures (eg. India) kids refer to adult neighbors as Uncle and Aunt.
Dr. Danny Avula the current Commissioner of Social Services at Virginia illustrates the power of neighborhood in his TED talk from 2014. The talk is “Dependance is not a dirty word.” Disclaimer: This talk is a great way to think about your neighborhood. Foster Child placements are a hyper local decision left best to the discretion of the dealing Social Worker/Foster Care Professional on a case by case basis. We hope that prospective foster parents will be inspired by this video to become foster parents for kids in their neighborhood.
To understand kinship care in more detail, prospective foster parents can see the Anne E. Casey Foundation for some great resources,
A wonderful resource for Social Workers while deciding neighborhood placement is an article by Jill Duerr Berrick of Berkeley : “Neighborhood-based foster care: A critical examination of location-based placement criteria.” Social Service Review 80, no. 4 (2006): 569-583. Read the full paper.