A Conversation with Kinship Supervisors Sherlene Fernando and Dawn Mohamed

Kinship Awareness Week 2021

In support of provincial Kinship Awareness Week, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto sat down with Kinship Supervisors, Sherlene Fernando and Dawn Mohamed, to learn about kinship families and how they support our Agency in keeping children and youth connected to their communities and culture.

What does child welfare mean by Kinship?

Kinship is a living arrangement in which a relative or community member who has an emotional connection to a child or youth takes primary responsibility for that child or youth while their caregiver addresses unique challenges.

Often, kinship families include relatives like grandparents or aunt/uncles, but this isn’t always the case. Teachers, neighbours, family friends and other close connections to the child may also take on a caregiving role through the Kinship Program.

Can you describe the different Kinship models that can families can explore?

Kinship placements can take two forms.

In the Kinship Service model, the child or youth does not come into the care of CAS Toronto, but is instead placed in the care of the kinship family. An assessment of the kin family is completed using the Kinship Service Standards which assists in determining if the family is able provide a nurturing, safe, and secure home, and that the plan is realistic and viable.

With the Kinship In Care model, the child remains in the care of CAS Toronto and the kinship family goes through the same training and assessment process as foster caregivers (also known as Resource Parents). Throughout the placement, the kin family continues to receive the same supports that foster families do.

What are the benefits of Kinship for children and youth?

Kinship has many benefits for children and youth in care.

As family members or other close connections, kinship caregivers are often individuals who the child or youth is familiar with. The child or youth may have previously spent time in the caregiver’s home, so the placement is likely a comfortable environment for them. By placing the child and youth with someone they know and have an existing relationship with, we are reducing trauma, anxiety and allowing them to adjust more easily to a new living arrangement.

Through kinship placements, children and youth are able to better maintain a sense of identity, continue their cultural practices and keep connected to their community. Kinship families allow for them to be surrounded by people who have an understanding of where they come from and who share and nourish similar - if not the same - racial, religious and cultural identities.

Parents who are in support of these placements often feel more comfortable knowing their children will be cared for by someone they know. This is an important element in maintaining positive, ongoing connections between children/youth and their parents throughout the Kinship arrangement.

How long has the Kinship Program been operating formally?

The Kinship Program began in 2003 at CAS Toronto, so it is going on 18 years.

Over the past nearly two decades, we have continued to witness the benefits of keeping children and youth connected to their culture and community. Because of this, our team has continued to grow and now includes 24 employees dedicated to finding, assessing and supporting Kinship placements.

What is Kinship Awareness Week all about?

Since 2014, Kinship Awareness Week has been celebrated provincially and provides child welfare agencies with an opportunity to recognize the commitment and contributions of kinship families across Ontario.

It is also a dedicated time when Kinship professionals come together, exchange ideas, share valuable resources, and collectively raise awareness of the importance of kinship as a child welfare model in Ontario.

What would you like people to know about the Kinship Program?

While many people understand the role that foster families play in child welfare, few are familiar with the significant contributions of kinship families.

Kinship placements are an essential part of an effective child welfare system and our Kinship Team is a truly dedicated group — they are phenomenal. Our staff truly believe in the program, they value it and go out of their way to be help children and families make placements work. Our Team works side-by-side kinship families to ensure children and youth are provided with safe, healthy and nurturing environments where they can continue to thrive and grow.