Kinship Care

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A Long Tradition

Although the number of kinship placements has climbed dramatically in recent years, the phenomenon has always been an integral part of the American fabric. In certain cultures, grandparents, other relatives, or neighbors traditionally have taken on the responsibility of raising children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them.

Ask any African American. Informal adoption is the norm, the traditional response of the community when a parent cannot take care of her child. It is common to see a grandmother caring for her grandson, an aunt caring for her niece, or a neighbor taking in a child from the community.

The same is true for Latinos. "In the South Texas community where I was raised, there was an informal system of intra-family adoptions that undoubtedly evolved in response to family and community needs," says Irma Herrera, Esq., director of Multicultural Education and Training Advocacy, Inc. in the San Francisco area. "Adoption was our way of distributing the burdens and benefits within a community."

A study by Kari Sandven, Ph.D., of the Riverside Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Michael D. Resnick, Ph.D., of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, found that the acceptance of informal adoption dates back to the kinship structures of ancient African cultures. It was customary then for aunts and uncles to help raise one another's children, creating the tradition of shared rather than exclusive parenting. Three generations of family lived together, and there were flexible boundaries that emphasized the clan over the nuclear family. The concept "It takes a village to raise a child" began here.

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