Epworth awarded two grants to expand kinship care

South Carolina is a state where far too many children live in poverty; in potentially abusive situations; in homes where lack of food, safety and security is a constant factor; and where stability of family life is absent.

Under the auspices of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, these children are identified and removed from homes in which they are in potential danger. And while the most common outcome for these children is temporary placement in a foster home, there is a growing trend in South Carolina and in the nation to place as many of these children as possible in what has come to be called “kinship care.”

Kinship care is a foster family type situation in which the primary caregivers are close relatives of the children who have been removed from their homes. There is relative kinship, but also “fictive” kin. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and other close family members offer comprehensive care to children in their families, under the placement and auspices of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Studies indicate that placing children in the care of relatives results in less trauma and more permanency by offering more familiarity and continuity.

Kinship care also helps children to maintain a sense of cultural bonds and belonging during a time when their lives are in a state of upheaval. A kinship care situation also offers stronger sibling ties, better behavioral and mental health outcomes, maintenance of family identity and stronger bridges into adulthood (per the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2022).

As part of its Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing, Epworth Children’s Home has been developing a comprehensive set of new programs and services focused on the evolving needs of children and families in our state for over a decade. Kinship care is an important aspect of this service for Epworth.

In recognition of its ability to develop programs and deliver services to kinship caregivers, the South Carolina Department of Social Services recently awarded Epworth two grants in the amount of $120,000 each to develop an expanded comprehensive plan and delivery of kinship navigation services to both the Midlands and Pee Dee regions of South Carolina.

This expansion will include hiring two staff members per region whose primary duties will focus upon direct assistance to kinship caregivers, establishing networks of service providers and generally expanding the scope of assistance to family members who have become primary caregivers for children in their families.

Epworth’s partnerships with the United Methodist Conference, individual UMC congregations in South Carolina and missional outposts in the state to mobilize 230,000 congregants for the provision of services to children and families is a huge part of Epworth’s efforts to bring programs and services to children and families in need all across South Carolina. Kinship care services have become an important part of Epworth’s outreach and assistance programs, and UMC churches all across the state have become integral partners in delivery of kinship care services and programs.

Through a network of UMC congregations all over the state, Epworth has created a platform through which kinship families can be assisted at the community level by United Methodist churches, in both small towns and in cities. Through referrals and community information, the churches reach out to kinship families in their specific community and offer a variety of direct services, from providing their own resource closets, to transportation to doctors’ appointments or meetings that kinship caregivers must attend, to helping families with meals, and in some cases, churches host their own Circle of Parents meetings for kinship families. The churches also act as liaisons with the Epworth campus so that they can help facilitate bringing kinship families from their communities to the Center for Counseling, the Early Education Intervention Center or to other services Epworth provides on its campuses.

Epworth provides support groups, training sessions and ongoing programmatic education for its church partners, and also connects UMC churches across the state with tangible resources to help them support kinship families who need assistance. Called a “resource closet” and located on Epworth’s campus, there are multiple rooms for kinship caregivers to access tangible items such as clothing, diapers, car seats, furniture and other household goods. Epworth receives large donations throughout the year for the closet and maintains the organization of the closet through volunteer groups. Very often kinship caregivers assume responsibility for children in their family with very little notice, so the ability to acquire such essential equipment and supplies for the children who will be living in their homes is important.

With the award of the two new grants and the funding they will provide, utilizing its extensive experience and expertise working to help and support underserved children and families in South Carolina.

And with the assistance of UMC partners and other collaborators across the state, Epworth will expand its level of help, support and guidance to kinship caregivers for many years to come.

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