This article was originally published by UKNow.
The College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky has an established history of supporting kinship caregivers across the Commonwealth.
From conducting research to launching programming, the college is on a mission to connect relatives caring for youth with an array of services designed to meet their unique needs.
Part of those efforts include hiring, training and certifying more paraprofessionals to properly identify and offer support for kinship caregivers.
Now, the college is a step closer to meeting that need.
CoSW’s innovative Kinship Peer Support Program has been approved to certify peer supporters, in accordance with Kentucky law. The training program, which was approved by the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities (DBHDID), is now recognized as meeting state certification requirements — allowing the college to address critical workforce and behavioral health needs in Kentucky.
“Data suggests that kinship rates throughout the Commonwealth are among the highest in the country. More and more family members are providing safe homes to children of parents struggling with substance use disorder and mental health issues,” Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, said. “We — as a society — are reliant on kinship care. While systems often spend time focused on foster care, kinship care can be forgotten. Communities must do more to support kin caregivers.”
The Kinship Peer Support program focuses on various aspects of kinship care — from family structure and dynamics to caregiver mentoring and support.
While outside agencies can enroll in the trainings to receive state certification for their staff, the CoSW is also using the program to certify their own peer supporters.
In an effort to provide much needed support for kinship families, in March 2020, the college launched the Kentucky Kinship Resource Center (KKRC).
Through KKRC, and in collaboration with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), the CoSW offers the Kentucky Kinship Information, Navigation and Support Program (KY-KINS).
Families being served by KY-KINS have access to innovative peer support and mentoring initiatives. Additionally, Kinship Peer Supporters, who are caregivers themselves, undergo the comprehensive training to provide the best support possible.
“Through KY-KINS, we hope to change the experiences many kinship caregivers have. From the time a child arrives, caregivers must quickly learn to navigate legal processes and complex family dynamics, while also finding ways to support their growing family,” Sheila Rentfrow, kinship program coordinator in the CoSW, said. “This is where KY-KINS can assist caregivers by providing resources and support from someone who has successfully navigated their personal kinship journey. In so doing, we hope to change the narrative of kinship care into one of connection, resiliency and hope.”
KY-KINS is based on the premise that by connecting kinship caregivers to a supportive network of trained professionals, the overall well-being of the entire family will improve, and the placement of children in the home will become safer and more stable.
Ultimately, young people need caregivers, and caregivers need support.
“Being able to offer this certified training allows the CoSW to provide a platform for peer support paraprofessionals to expand their knowledge of kinship care beyond their personal kinship experiences,” Rentfrow said. “Not only will this new understanding assist peer supporters in being more impactful in their work with kinship caregivers, it will also provide them with state recognition of their ability, knowledge and hard work.”
You can learn more about the College of Social Work here and the Kentucky Kinship Resource Center here.