LEXINGTON, Ky. – Across the nation, nearly 2.7 million young people are being raised by a relative. This care arrangement, referred to as kinship care, is necessary when parents are unable to safely care for children in their home. It is estimated that Kentucky has one of the highest rates of kinship care in the country.
And for many of those kinship caregivers, there is great need for support.
“Kinship caregivers face challenges that are exceptionally unique,” explained Jessica Adkins, a kinship care provider who raised five children; two biological sons and three adopted children, two of which were kinship placed. “The familial dynamics are often strained, and kinship caregivers can struggle to find the resources and supports they need.”
To support kinship caregivers, the College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky launched the Kentucky Kinship Resource Center (KKRC) in March of 2020. The KKRC provides a continuum of services to meet the unique needs of kinship providers across the Commonwealth. Those services include comprehensive education and training initiatives, mentor programs, and broad-based advocacy.
“KKRC is particularly situated to meet the needs of the Commonwealth,” Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, said. “This center was the first of its kind in our state, and we are extremely excited to be able to serve kinship caregivers in an innovative way.”
Among the innovative services offered at KKRC is KY-KINS.
KY-KINS is an evidence-informed peer support program that matches kinship caregivers with certified Peer Support Specialists. These specialists, all of whom have lived experience as a kinship caregiver themselves, provide individualized support services to kinship caregivers throughout Kentucky.
“KY-KINS has a singular focus to support kinship caregivers in all aspects of their kinship lives,” said Sheila Rentfrow, KKRC Program Coordinator. “Ultimately, we hope to have a positive impact on the people we are able to serve through the program.”
Certainly, that impact has shown through.
Reports show KY-KINS has increased caregiving capacity, reduced stress, and offered increased stability to Kentucky families. In 2023, KY-KINS was nationally recognized and named “Parent Group of the Year” by the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC). The award is designed to honor parent associations and groups for their excellence in supporting adoptive, foster and kinship families.
More recently, KY-KINS was approved to certify kinship peer supporters, in accordance with Kentucky law. The program is recognized as meeting state certification requirements — allowing KKRC to address critical workforce and behavioral health needs in Kentucky.
For many like Adkins, who in addition to being a kinship caregiver is a Certified Kinship Peer Supporter, programs like KKRC can have a significant impact on kinship caregivers – and the young people in their care.
“As a kinship caregiver, I wasn’t able to access programs like KKRC,” explained Adkins. “For many of our caregivers, it is such a relief to know they are not alone. To know that they are heard. To know that there is help. That is what KY-KINS is all about.”