A Teen’s Perspective: Growing Up as a Kinship Kid – a Life Filled with Losses, Worry but Much Gratitude

October 6, 202I – I speak not only for myself, but on behalf of many other children being raised in kinship families when I say how grateful I am that my grandparents decided to take guardianship of my brother and me. They have kept our family together and helped maintain ties to our biological mother and fathers, and to my extended family – my wonderful Aunt Jessi, Uncle Russ and cousins. But it has not been easy. We have watched our biological mother enter in and out of rehabs and jail, and it has been hard to stay in contact with our biological fathers, who live in another state. Even so, my parents have always supported my decision on whether or not to have contact with my biological parents and have guided me through complicated situations with them.

We all know children raised in kinship families have experienced loss. According to the research, kinship children are at risk for emotional and behavioral problems because of it. Early in their lives, children experience divided loyalties, rejection, loss, guilt, and anger. Many children feel disappointment and hurt by their parents’ actions and the lack of time spent together. To mitigate these losses, kinship parents have selflessly stepped up to the plate to soften the blow of these hard realities. They have often been the ones left picking up the pieces from this trauma, and sadly, are often the ones on the receiving end of negative repercussions of hurting children.

My brother, for example, has suffered from many emotional and behavioral problems. Diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome that he experienced prenatally, he has dealt with learning difficulties, trouble with relationships, and risky behaviors. This has had an impact on our home life, and my life has not been the easiest because of the trauma. There is no doubt that kinship families with similar trauma need better access to mental health services and the financial support to pay for it.

As you can imagine, children growing up in kinship families are not the only ones who have experienced loss. Kinship parents have, too! My parents and other kinship parents have had to set aside dreams to travel, dreams to retire, dreams of being the fun kind of grandparents, auntie, uncle, or cousin they might have been. They have taken on new responsibilities while grieving the loss of a child who either died or simply walked away. Doing this work changes everything. How about one’s social life? My grandmother lost friends because she was not available to them. She was too busy with us or found she did not have much in common with people her age anymore. I saw her losses, but she did not complain. Instead, she brushed it off, saying, “It will keep me younger, and I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff the second time around!’’

Children growing up in kinship families have a variety of worries, financial among them. Many kinship caregivers live below the poverty level, or on fixed incomes like my parents. As a high school senior, I am constantly wondering about how to pay for college, and juggle work and school. I stress myself, asking, how much debt will this incur? I also worry about getting medical insurance when I am no longer on my parents’ insurance. On top of it all, I worry that my parents, who are older, could become sick, and miss seeing me graduate, get married, have kids. I know other kinship kids share these worries.

If it were not for my parents and others like them, however, children like me would not have the safety, protection, and security we need to grow up strong. That is because the research also shows that children in kinship homes gain a sense of well-being that is so critical for a healthy upbringing. These strong relationships, built with love and support, allow children the stability they need to succeed in school, stay out of trouble, and develop strong morals. I am so grateful for the direction and guidance my parents have provided me and will continue to offer me through difficult times ahead.

Because my mother works for the Adoptive Family Support Network, I have been able to develop relationships with other kids whose families have been formed just like mine through the events and activities they plan for families across the state. Before this, I struggled with my self-image growing up, wondering if people knew that I did not live in a traditional family and would judge me and my situation. But now I see how I can use the hard things in life to help provide knowledge to drive and lead positive social change.

In 2019 I was able to attend the first-ever Kinship Dome Day at the Michigan Capitol. I saw firsthand how kinship voices were heard because of their advocacy. The Kinship Coalition that my mom helps lead has tried for years to bring positive social change by advancing the cause of a Kinship Navigator Program and Kinship Advisory Council in Michigan. They continue to preserver with the aim that one day soon families raising kinship kids in Michigan will be able to obtain the resources, networking help and other support needed to improve prospects for the 52,000 kids coming up in kinship families in Michigan. Won’t you support us? Urge your lawmakers and the Whitmer Administration to adopt these important bills.

Michigan’s Children supports the Coalition’s efforts to win Legislative and Administrative support for a Kinship Navigator and Advisory Bill. The recently approved FY2022 state budget includes a provision for the Department of Health and Human Services to add an Advisory Council for Kinship Care and to explore a Navigator Program.

Ryleigh Frisbie, 18, is a high school senior, and the adopted daughter of Dick and Debbie Frisbie from Northern Michigan. Her blog was adapted from a presentation she made honoring Michigan caregivers before the Michigan Kinship Caregivers Coalition’s legislative event on Sept. 27, 2021.