Extended family, or kinship care, in Los Angeles continues to be an important resource for maintaining family ties for youth in foster care. As some Millennials (ages 18-35) move into the caregiving realm for their younger siblings, the child welfare system has failed to embrace this family configuration, keeping the focus instead almost exclusively on Baby Boomers (ages 52-70) who make up the vast majority of traditional caregiving relatives.
In many cases, there are young adults who have stepped up to care for their dependent siblings in order to keep their family intact. These adults, usually young women, have generally had their own history in foster care and have suffered their own traumas and challenges. They may be marginally or permanently employed, pursuing higher education or vocational courses, in a relationship or on their own, usually financially strapped, in unstable living arrangements, and just trying to find their own way as independent adults. Their needs and their stage of life as young adults set them apart from grandparent caregivers.
When asked in 2014 by members of Citizens Invested in Transitioning Youth (CITY) , the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was hard pressed to offer data identifying how many such sibling caregivers existed but gave an estimate of just under 100. No demographic information was given, such as how many children were living in each of these family situations, their gender or their ages.
As far as CITY can determine, there is no local service delivery model within DCFS to address the significant needs of sibling head-of-household groups and there are no plans underway to do so. The general rubric of kinship care accounts for approximately 9,000 children, according to the data fact sheets on the DCFS website.
Understandably, 100 sibling caregivers is a small number but if each cared for two siblings (generally in the latency and teen age groups) there were at least a few hundred youth living in this situation a few years ago. How many are there currently?
Social workers and the court have seen fit to reunite these children with their older sibling, but these families are buried in general kinship statistics and not isolated into a distinct category. The needs of these young caregivers do not seem to be addressed in any formalized way. They are in a different stage of life than their older caregiver counterparts. They may be poorly equipped to deal with their parents who may also still be in the siblings’ lives; they are struggling to make their own way in life, in school or in the workforce. They may lack a resource network, positive parental role models, financial stability, reliable transportation, etc., and yet their desire to keep their family together motivates them to forge ahead in the best way they can.
We continue to urge DCFS to:
- Acknowledge this vulnerable population and quantify, as a regular data component, the number of former dependents caring for their younger court-dependent siblings;
- Pinpoint their areas of residence to determine if there are concentrations of these households in any one jurisdiction;
- Understand household composition: how many, what ages and genders;
- Review the literature to determine if another jurisdiction successfully serves this type of family constellation;
- Conduct local focus groups with adult sibling caregivers to identify and prioritize needs and service gaps; and,
- Identify or develop resources and put forth recommendations to meet critical needs.
You cannot solve a problem that hasn’t been identified. If DCFS does not know how many such families exist, or their special service needs, the quality of the placement and, therefore, child safety and stability, are jeopardized. This is a population that deserves attention and support from the community and DCFS.
Stacey Savelle is a founding member of Citizens Invested in Transitioning Youth (CITY), a retired manager from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, a former Commissioner on the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families, a Board Member of the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, a decades long volunteer with the California Youth Connection, and a consultant in the areas of mentoring and homelessness.