China and Lakeeva of Warrenton were put into foster care after a court declared their parents unfit. But instead of being placed in the home of strangers, the state turned to kin.
China and Lakeeva are being raised by someone they love and trust: their grandfather's ex-wife.
"I guess, looking at them, there was no way I could not," says Sylvia Dunston. "I had grown so attached to them. And just decided to do it all the way."
This situation called "kinship care" is a way of life for millions of kids.
In fact, more than three million children in the U.S. are living with relatives. In North Carolina, the most recent numbers show that about 2,500 children in DSS custody are under kindship care.
"The biggest advantage is that the children are not separated from potential family members that they typically have known all their lives," says Social Worker Caroline Armstrong.
Even though they are relatives, kinship care providers are paid stipends by the state. The children still belong to the welfare system.
While there are advantages to children staying with family member, there is a downside. Kinship care is still foster care and often goes goes on for too long.
"While they may have the psychological status of being part of a family," says Armstrong, "they need the legal status where there is no agency intervention."
Already deeply committed to China and Lakeeva, Sylvia Dunston decided to take full responsibility. She recently adopted them. Did she make the right choice?
"Looking at them, them calling me 'Grandpo,' that's enough for me," says Dunston. "They acknowledge me as their mom, so it's just looking at their faces for them to let me know that I made the right decision."
It can be quite a challenge raising other people's children. Social workers say if you know a kinship caregiver, offer your help.
Babysitting, doing the laundry or running errands. Even the smallest gesture will lighten their load considerably.