A Conversation with Kinship Supervisors for Kinship Awareness Week 2022

Purple back ground with white Children's Aid Society of Toronto text. Underneath the logo are the words Kinship Awareness Week 2022 in white.

In support of provincial Kinship Awareness Week, we sat down with Children’s Aid Society of Toronto’s (CAST) 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 a community member who has an emotional connection to a child(ren), youth or family takes primary responsibility for the child(ren) or youth while they are not able to reside with their parent/caregiver.

Kinship families include Kin or Kith. We work with relatives (Kin) such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or community members (Kith) such as teachers, neighbours, family friends and others who have close connections to the child(ren), youth or family.

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

Caring through Kinship can take two forms.

Kinship Service: the child(ren) or youth does not come into the care of CAST but is instead placed in the care of a Kinship family. We conduct an assessment of the Kin or Kith family using the Ontario Kinship Service Standards which assist us in determining if they can provide a nurturing, safe and secure home, and that the plan is realistic and viable.

Kinship In Care: the child(ren) or youth is in the care of CAST and the Kinship family goes through the same training and assessment process as Foster caregivers.

Can you provide an overview of the Kinship Services team at CAST? 

Kinship Service began in 2003 at CAST, so it is going on 19 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 has over 30 employees dedicated to finding, assessing and supporting care through Kinship Service including:

Kinship Researchers: search for Kin and/or Kith to not only provide a place for child(ren)/youth to stay but also to connect child(ren) or youth to their family members and communities. In situations where Kin and/or Kith caregivers are not able to have a child(ren) or youth reside with them, there is always an opportunity to maintain connections through contact and/or visits.

Kinship Assessment Workers: meet with Kin and/or Kith families to assess plans to ensure they are safe, viable and meet the needs of the child(ren) or youth.

Kinship Service Support Workers: provide ongoing support to Kin and/or Kith families to ensure that the child(ren) or youth are provided with safe, healthy and nurturing environments where they can continue to thrive and grow.

What are the benefits of Kinship Service for children and youth?

Kinship Service has many benefits for children and youth in care.

As family members or other close connections, Kinship caregivers are often individuals who the child(ren) or youth is familiar with. The child(ren) or youth may have previously spent time in the home, so this is likely a comfortable environment for them. By placing the child(ren) 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 Service, children and youth are able to better maintain a sense of identity and keep connected to their community. Kinship families allow for them to be surrounded by people who understand where they come from, and who share and nourish similar - if not the same - familial, religious, cultural and other identities.

Parents who are in support of this alternate care for their child or youth 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 child(ren) or youth and their parents throughout the Kinship arrangement.

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 and resources and collectively raise awareness of the importance of Kinship Service as a priority in alternate care for children and youth.