Kinship care is when children are placed in the care of relatives instead of their parents. There are many reasons that children are displaced from their parents, including:
Child welfare practices prioritize placing the child with relatives when they are displaced from their parents. Nationally, the number of children living in foster care is growing, and nearly one-third of children in foster care are living with a relative. Studies show that children in kinship foster care have shown more positive behavioral development, mental health, and placement stability than children in nonkinship foster care. Other benefits of kinship care include:
While there are many benefits to kinship care, there are also many obstacles that kinship caregivers must overcome. Legal issues, financial assistance, child welfare, and schooling are typical problems that caregivers can experience. This guide is designed to help kinship caregivers overcome these obstacles and provide the right care for the child in need.
If you have become a kinship caregiver for a younger family member, you may have noticed that there are many types of kinship care. Depending on the child and parent scenario, there are different levels of involvement with the court and a child welfare agency. Kinship care can range from informal and voluntary with no court involvement, to formal adoption and guardianship.
Informal kinship care arrangements are made by family members with no court or state involvement. In these situations, the biological parents will retain legal custody and can take their children back at any point while the children live with another family member.
Parents who are ill or who leave for overseas might enter into this type of arrangement for the betterment of their children. Kinship caregivers may have difficulty obtaining health insurance or enrolling kids in school because they do not have access to the child’s legal documents.
In formal kinship care situations, children are placed in the State’s legal custody; the State then places the children with relatives. Both the relative and the child welfare agency are involved in making legal decisions about the children, including determining where they live, ensuring they get medical care, and enrolling them in school. The agency will also supervise any visits between the children and the biological parents. Additionally, kinship caregivers must be certified or approved as foster parents.
With voluntary kinship care, child welfare agencies are involved, but the State does not take legal custody of the children. Living arrangements for the children can either be set up through the court or by the child welfare agency alone. Often parents will volunteer to place their children with relatives to prevent the child welfare agency from pursuing court activity.
One scenario in which voluntary kinship care is ideal is if the parent is undergoing treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues and the child needs a safe environment to thrive in.
Guardianship allows a parent to choose who will take care of their child. With temporary guardianship, the kinship caregiver has legal, limited custody of the child. While the limit varies by state, the typical time limit of temporary guardianship is between 60 days and six months. Only the biological parent of the child can request this type of guardianship, and they must petition the court to end it. Temporary guardianship may be granted if:
Permanent guardianship, on the other hand, can be mandated without the parent’s consent and typically lasts until the child turns 18 years of age. Permanent guardians are able to make the same decisions that parents can make and it is often hard to change status once it’s been granted.
If a caregiver wants custody over a child, they will have legal rights and responsibilities. Custody must be granted through the courts or through a signed petition from the biological parents. There are two types of custody that can be granted:
Kinship caregivers may have both or only one type of custody. For instance, the State may retain legal custody while relatives may have physical custody.
If a child is not going to return to their parents, adoption is a common option for kinship caregivers. Adoption gives the child a sense of permanency as well as keeps them with their biological family. The adoption process is a bit more involved, as the prospective adoptive parents must meet state requirements, even if they have been kinship caregivers for the child already. Although worthwhile, the adoption process is expensive, which is something the caregivers must consider.
There are many types of adoption, however, kinship caregivers may only deal with private and public adoption. Private adoption consists of an attorney acting as a liaison between both parties and is usually faster because there are fewer requirements for adoptive parents.
Public adoptions are conducted through adoption agencies which must abide by state-mandated guidelines, making the process longer and more complicated. However, adoptive parents have more access to resources such as counseling and parenting classes when they adopt through agencies.
If children are placed in foster care, biological family and kinship placement are preferred. Social workers try to find family members or close family friends to place the child with. These caregivers must comply with guidelines put forth by judges and social workers that are in the child’s best interest. These guidelines include:
It’s important to note that each state and county will have different guidelines to abide by, so if a family member wishes to enter into a kinship foster care situation, they must check with their local social services department.
Financial responsibility typically falls to the kinship caregiver. However, many new caregivers could find themselves caught in financial hardships as many kinship arrangements are typically sudden. The average cost of raising a child in the United States is about $233,610, which caregivers might not account for when opting to care for the child. These additional costs include:
Additionally, most kinship caregivers are grandparents who live on Social Security and other retirement benefits and may need to look elsewhere for additional income. There are a variety of benefits that kinship families are entitled to but might not be aware of.
After obtaining legal guardianship, kinship caregivers can apply for guardianship subsidies which consist of cash payments. These payments help caregivers afford the new financial responsibilities of raising children.
In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act was passed, allowing states to use funds through the Federal Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to finance guardianship assistance programs (GAP). To receive these types of payments, the child often has to be in the custody of the state.
There are few states that allow caregivers to receive guardianship subsidies for children who do not enter the foster system. GAPs were created to help children who have been in foster care with a licensed relative providing care for at least six months or for those who cannot be reunited with their parents.
For the relative to receive payments, guardianship agreements must be in place before the court awards guardianship. Payments are made by the state with a monthly recurrence and end when the child turns 18.
Adoption subsidies are one-time or ongoing cash payments that may be available when a child is adopted through the foster care system. Most children adopted through foster care are considered to have “special needs” because they may have been exposed to childhood trauma and may need additional medical attention or mental health evaluation. The adoption subsidy was created to help cover the costs of medication, counseling, therapies, and specialists these children might need.
In some states, benefits also include:
Depending on the needs of the child adopted, the stipend the caregiver receives could be monthly, and last until the child turns 18. To receive an adoption subsidy, parents must make written requests to their regional Children and Family Services office.
In 2018, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) granted $18 million to states for Kinship Navigator programs. These programs help connect caregivers to benefits, counseling, and other assistance. However, more research is needed to create federal, evidence-based programs that can benefit kinship families.
Kinship families have other options for grants including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This program provides grant funds to states to assist families with financial assistance and supportive services. Some ways that the TANF program can help families include:
To qualify for this benefit, you must be:
There are two types of grants that caregivers are eligible for: child-only grants and family grants.
To apply for TANF, you must obtain the application information for your particular state.
Although the child may be in a relative’s care, unless a court has terminated the parental rights, biological parents are typically financially responsible for the child. Child support payments can help relatives meet the financial needs of the child under their care. The amount of support received is based on the parents’ ability to pay and the needs of the child. Payments may also be used for specific benefits like health insurance and child care.
Each state determines how much child support must be paid by adhering to child support guidelines. Often states will calculate an amount based on the percentage of the parents’ income, including:
It’s important to note that if you’re a kinship caregiver and you are receiving TANF benefits, then you will be required to use child support payments to reimburse the state TANF agency. To receive child support, you have the following options:
If the children are involved in foster care, kinship caregivers may receive foster care payments to help assist in raising the child. However, some children might be ineligible for financial assistance if the relatives stepped in before the child entered foster care.
Foster care payments are typically larger than other forms of financial assistance and can multiply by the number of children a relative is caring for. Additionally, these payments are not typically considered taxable income.
However, it’s important to note that becoming a foster parent is not a lucrative side business and these payments should not be considered as income. In fact, to become a foster parent, you must first show that you are financially stable. The monthly stipends you receive from being a foster parent are administered to help pay for:
To receive foster care payments, kinship caregivers must be licensed with the state they reside in. Then, they can apply for payments from their state’s child welfare agency.
There are also public benefits that can help assist kinship caregivers financially. Depending on the type of tax benefit, you may not need a formal legal relationship with the child you’re taking care of. The tax credits you’re allowed to receive without having a legal relationship include:
Additionally, if you are a grandparent or a senior caregiver, you may qualify for the federal tax credit for seniors and disabled taxpayers. Eligible taxpayers are those over 65 years of age and are within a certain income bracket.
Financial abuse is common in domestic violence situations. Violence in the home, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual, is a common reason that children are taken away from their biological parents and are sent to live with a relative. Parents often have complete access to their children’s financials and may use these opportunities to exploit their children for personal profit. Examples of financial abuse include:
Parental financial abuse can severely impact a child’s future financial opportunities. If you discover signs of financial abuse, there are some steps to take to rectify the situation:
Often kinship caregivers are unprepared for the extra financial burden of raising another child. This can result in financial distress including:
Financial stress can affect family life, including increased anxiety, depression, and strain in parental relationships. However, there are ways to recover from financial hardships. First, you’ll want to identify what needs the most attention. Typically, credit card debt is one of the most debilitating financial hardships a person can experience due to the high interest rates. Lingering credit card debt has the potential to hurt credit scores and cost more money in the long run. One way to get credit card debt under control is to avoid these bad credit card habits:
If you have a credit card, it’s important to know how to use it, including how to pay off debt and avoid overspending. You can talk to your credit card company to request a lower interest rate, negotiate your credit card debt, or transfer a balance to a credit card with a lower interest rate. Taking these steps will help repair your credit score which will help you access more financial opportunities in the future.
In addition to lowering your credit card debt, you can also refinance a mortgage to help lower the monthly payments. This helps families access more income, especially those who are living on a fixed income, like retired caregivers. Be sure to talk with a lender before refinancing your mortgage to discover if this is the right financial move.
Becoming a kinship caregiver may mean that you need bigger living arrangements. For instance, if you are a senior caregiver, you may live in senior housing and might be unsure if your relative can move in with you. Or, you could be a senior who lives on a fixed income and needs help paying your mortgage.
Additionally, low-income families might also have difficulty finding affordable housing to accommodate their growing family. Luckily, there are a few options to consider when deciding on the best course of action for housing:
Caregivers should also note that if their relatives have been in state custody, the caregiver could become a foster parent to care for the child. However, this means the state will likely conduct a home inspection to ensure the child’s safety. Foster homes must comply with local and state zoning, building, and fire safety codes, and must adhere to the following checklist:
Kinship caregivers could encounter medical obstacles when trying to obtain health insurance for their relatives. One problem could be that the child is not covered under the caregiver’s health insurance plan. Another could be that the caregiver does not have legal custody over the child and therefore may have trouble obtaining medical consent.
Additionally, caregivers could be unprepared for the additional costs of medical treatment for the child or children. These issues can make it difficult for the child to receive the physical or mental treatment they need, and cause stress on the caregiver.
Children who are displaced from their parents often suffer from physical and emotional trauma and might need extra medical treatment. While kinship care has proven to help displaced children with behavioral problems, both caregivers and children may need additional emotional support. Kinship caregivers could suffer a number of risks including:
Additionally, children who are in some type of foster care might also suffer from mental and physical trauma, including:
While these problems can be overwhelming, kinship caregivers should focus on trying to give the child a stable home environment. When children feel safe and secure, they can develop naturally and successfully. Ways to create a stable environment include:
As stated above, caregivers that do not have legal custody or guardianship may have trouble obtaining medical consent for the child’s treatment. Children under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to medical treatment, and typically the parents of the child have this right.
However, when children are displaced from their parents and are sent to live with a relative, caregivers may have to seek out the parents to obtain medical consent. When a caregiver has medical consent, they’re able to authorize medical treatment without delay. For the caregiver to obtain medical consent, caregivers and parents must sign a child medical consent form, which includes:
It’s important to note that each state has different regulations regarding medical consent, so caregivers should research their local requirements.
Paying for medical care is often a forgotten aspect of caring for a child. Many health insurance plans may not cover children, or caregivers may not have any health insurance at all. There are many medical debt resources available for people who are having trouble paying their medical bills.
Additionally, if a caregiver or a child needs access to other medical services, there are a variety of mental health and addiction recovery services, including:
When children are displaced from their parents, they will likely have to change schools. This inconsistency can affect their success in school, as children in foster care or kinship care often suffer from behavioral issues or have special needs. Additionally, kinship caregivers could find it difficult to afford childcare, or find child care that meets the needs of displaced children. Creating a stable environment, both in the home, in school, and in childcare can help children develop successfully.
Kinship caregivers could find themselves in need of childcare, as many often have full-time jobs and do not have the option of flexible work hours or working from home. This makes caring for children difficult. Options for childcare include:
To find childcare programs in your area, you can visit these websites to find accredited programs:
Additionally, each state offers a child care subsidy program that can help lower-income families pay for child care. Be sure to research the requirements for the program in your state to ensure you qualify for the subsidy.
Similar to medical consent, according to the American Bar Association (ABA) caregivers may need educational consent to enroll a child in a new school. While it’s beneficial to keep a child in the same school they’ve been in to minimize transitions, some caregivers might live in a different school district than the child’s parents.
Additionally, the ABA states that most school districts require proof of guardianship or documentation of legal custody to prevent families from abusing the school system. Proof of residency is also a requirement to enroll children in a school. However, while these systems are in place to prevent people from taking advantage of children or the public school system, they can prevent children from attending school.
Some states have responded to these issues by creating consent laws that allow caregivers to complete an affidavit in court that they are the primary guardian. These affidavits allow the parents to retain most rights regarding the child and the ability to rescind the affidavits at any time. Lastly, states are developing ways to penalize caregivers who are taking advantage of school districts under consent laws; penalties may include repayment of tuition and other fines.
To err on the side of safety, kinship caregivers should try to obtain legal custody of their kin in order to successfully enroll them in school.
Kinship families may need financial assistance for college. Luckily, there are many scholarships available for adopted youth:
As relatives take on a new parenting role, the transition can be difficult for both the caregiver and the child. New caregivers might find themselves giving up certain things, such as:
Additionally, a child displaced from their parents may experience feelings of abandonment, trauma, and other mental health issues that make it tough for the child to form new relationships. These stressors affect how caregivers interact with children, spouses, other family members, and friends. It’s important that caregivers take time for themselves to ensure they are functioning at their best.
As a caregiver, you may be overcome with a variety of feelings, including:
These feelings, coupled with the physical and financial demands of raising children, can be overwhelming, so it’s important to take time to indulge in self-care. To be an adequate caretaker, you must ensure that all your needs are met as well as those of the child. Examples of taking care of yourself include:
Kinship care can be sudden and unexpected. Caring for children often means that your needs become neglected. However, it’s important to look after your physical and mental health to ensure you are in the best shape to care for children.
Kinship caregivers can find relief by engaging in support groups with other caregivers. People who seek out the support of other individuals are typically more successful than those who isolate themselves and try to deal with hardships on their own. Other benefits of support groups include:
If you decide to seek out a support group, there are many ways to find one:
Caregivers and children may feel a variety of feelings and need time to process their new living situation. Additionally, children may have a lot of questions about what has happened and need an adult they can trust and confide in. To encourage open communication, caregivers should consider the following:
It is important to remember that caregivers don’t need to have all the answers, however, by establishing an open dialogue with the child, they can start to initiate trust and confidence.
Continuing contact with the child’s parents can be healthy, especially if the kinship arrangement is only temporary. There are many ways to keep in contact with the parents, including:
When scheduling these visits, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
Kinship care, while overwhelming, can be rewarding for both the caregiver and the child. By using the resources laid out in this guide, you’ll be able to help ensure physical, emotional, mental, and financial stability for the child as well as yourself.