Push continues for more ‘kinship families’ to take in related children removed from their homes

SAN ANTONIO – For the past two months, Sherri and Eric Thomas have been caring for a family member’s child who was removed from his home.

“We got a phone call on a Thursday afternoon. And Thursday night, we were picking him up,” Sherri Thomas said. “I spent a lot of time with him when he was a baby. And then, we just wanted him back in our lives and to do what we could.”

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The couple has become what is called a “kinship family,” when a child who has experienced abuse or neglect is placed with people close to them.

“It can be someone that you have a significant bond or relationship. With family friends, a teacher, a church member, a neighbor. It doesn’t have to be blood relative,” said Charrelle Herbert, the specialty director for SJRC Texas and its placement arm Belong.

Part of Herbert’s job is to oversee kinship placements and support those families.

“I’m able to send some of my specialists to their home, to sit down, talk with them and say, ‘Hey, what can we do to to make this work?’” Herbert said.

“Once he was in our home and we started having visits with our kinship worker,” Sherri Thomas said. “She is leading us along. Any questions I have, I can text her, call her, and she gets me what I need.”

Forty-nine percent of foster care placements are kinship placements. SJRC Texas would like to see that number to be higher.

Educating potential kinship families about the assistance available to them — including financial support, free coaching and therapies — could lead to more families getting involved.

“Something we wanted was coaching,” Sherri Thomas said. “We don’t know what this child has seen, so we want to do what we can. So she was able to set us up with the coaching program.”

Making kinship work can change a child’s life.

“We want these children, while their parents are working on things, to remain in their community, remain connected to those in their community, their school, their teachers, their relatives,” Herbert said.

Herbert also explained why a kinship placement can be better for the parents themselves.

“I think parents are even more successful when they know that their kids are with someone that they know,” Herbert said. “It alleviates some of their stressors so they can focus on getting that sobriety (sic), or getting some of those safety concerns addressed in their home.”

The Thomas family said it is seeing proof that kinship placement is working.

“Each day, it seems like it’s getting better and better. I think his guard is coming down. He’s excelling in school,” Eric Thomas said.

The couple has invested in what brings the boy joy.

“We have a pond near our house, and I took him fishing. I went and bought him a little fishing pole,” Eric Thomas said.

“We go out on the back porch and he’ll ride his bike,” Sherri Thomas said.

Becoming a kinship family involves some steps for the families:

– A home study to ensure the home is safe and appropriate for the child

– A meeting with kinship workers about benefits

– Becoming a licensed kinship caregiver

Kinship is often a stepping stone in the child’s journey. The goal is always reunification with parents, but in case that can’t happen, families want to be set up for a possible future adoption.

That’s why kinship families are strongly encouraged to get licensed, which can also pull in extra benefits.

The Thomas’ are urging others to become kinship families, if that opportunity is presented to them.

“Don’t be afraid to step out of that comfort zone,” Eric Thomas said. “Even if we’re just a part of his life for a few months, it’s going to all be worth it in the end to know we gave him that chance and that opportunity.”

If you want to learn more about becoming a kinship family, you can head to the SJRC Texas website.

You can also help by participating in our KSAT Community phone bank, coming up on Tuesday, May 14.

During National Foster Care Awareness Month, KSAT is shining a light on community needs, showing what resources SJRC Texas and Belong have available, and allowing the community to help out.

Between noon and 7 p.m. on May 14, you’ll be able to learn more about foster care, ask questions, and even pledge financial support during the live broadcast. Those donations can be financial or Amazon Wishlist.

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