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‘The Kinship Experience’ — Alternative to Foster Care

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Grandparents Deborah (left) and Marianne (right) legally adopted their granddaughter Geeta (center). Photo courtesy of Vermont Kin as Parents and the Community of Vermont Elders.
A new documentary “The Kinship Experience,” directed by filmmakers Mara Brooks, a former editor of The Bridge, and Brad Salon, examines the struggles of older Vermonters raising the children of relatives or friends. The film’s producers, Vermont Kin as Parents and the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE), held a screening in June at Essex Cinema in Essex Junction. 

Kinship care, an alternative to traditional foster care, occurs when a grandparent or friend steps in to care for a child when the birth parents are unable to do so. Multiple studies have shown that children raised by a relative or other trusted adult have better long-term outcomes than those placed with strangers in foster care. 

“The aim of this documentary is to be a catalyst to change the narrative of Kinship families in the United States,” said Jim Holway, president of Vermont Kin as Parents. “We start here in Vermont.”

Ruby Baker, executive director of COVE, said the issue of kinship care has special relevance to the community her organization serves.

“Statistically, it’s often grandparents who fill the role of kinship parent,” Baker said. “And despite the joy it gives them to care for a child they already know and love, embarking on a second round of parenting later in life can be challenging.”

Health issues, stamina, and lack of same-age peers are a few of the issues that can impact older kinship caregivers, Baker said.

Vermont state representative Chip Troiano called “The Kinship Experience” “informative” and “well done.”

“This documentary speaks frankly to some of the issues that grandparents face when they take grandchildren in,” Troiano said.

Jeanne Collins Deweese, whose family is featured in the film, described “The Kinship Experience” as “a useful tool to break the stereotypes and biases of kinship care.” 

A retired school administrator, Deweese became legal guardian 18 years ago for two young students born to Vietnamese refugees. Ultimately, she ended up raising five children from the same family.

“Many children need to be raised by kin or friends who are not their parents,” Deweese said. “The [kinship] relationship is usually positive, and kids thrive with the love of a stable adult who cares for them.”

Holway said kinship caregivers are “examples of extraordinary people parenting children who have likely seen some very difficult times.”

Kinship families should be “celebrated,” Holway said.

“With this documentary, we hope to lift kinship care out of the shadows,” he said. “And recognize that kinship families are the most common example of ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’”

For more information on kinship care visit vermontkinasparents.org

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