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Home > Practice Areas > Kinship Care > Frequently Asked Questions


Frequently Asked Questions

"The family is at once the most sensitive, important, and enduring element in the culture of any people. Whatever its structure, its most important function is everywhere the same namely, to ensure the survival of its people." Andrew Billingsly, Sociologist, Author, Professor

What is kinship care as defined by CWLA?

Kinship care is the full time care, nurturing and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a kinship bond with a child. This definition is designed to be inclusive and respectful of cultural values and ties of affection. It allows a child to grow to adulthood in a family environment.

Kinship care is typically categorized in two ways - informal and formal:
  • Informal kinship care is when the family decides that the child will live with relatives or other kin. In this informal kinship care arrangement, a social worker may be involved in helping family members plan for the child, but a child welfare agency does not assume legal custody of or responsibility for the child. Because the parents still have custody of the child, relatives need not be approved, licensed, or supervised by the state.

  • Formal kinship care involves the parenting of children by kin as a result of a determination by the court and the child protective service agency. The courts rule that the child must be separated from his or her parents because of abuse, neglect, dependency, abandonment or special medical circumstances. The child is placed in the legal custody of the child welfare agency, and the kin provide the full time care, protection and nurturing that the child needs. Formal kinship care is linked to state and federal child welfare laws.

What types of support services are available and how are they accessed?

While kinship care promotes positive family relationships, kinship caregivers and the children in their care are often in need of support services. Public and private social services agencies provide support services for families including kin who are caring for their grandchildren, niece or nephew. Check with your local social service agency to find out what type of services they provide. Some support services that social services agencies may provide are:
  • Emergency food, clothing and furnishing;

  • Financial Assistance;

  • Medical Assistance for the children;

  • Child care;

  • Respite Care;

  • Counseling and guidance in resolving family conflicts or parental problems that are preventing the return of the child(ren) to parents and;

  • Information & referral to services and resources that will assist in maintaining the children in your home.

What types of financial assistance are available?

Financial benefits vary from state to state. However, many kinship caregivers may be able to access Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds for the "child only" through the local welfare agency. Financial assistance may include medical assistance for the child as well. You must inform the social service representative that you are applying for financial assistance for the child in your care only. This is to ensure that your income is not included.

Also accessed through the welfare office is child support which is another form of financial assistance for the child(ren) in your care. The parents are still financially responsible for their child(ren) as long as their parental rights have not been terminated.

Be advised, if you are applying for food stamps your income and the income of everyone living in your household will be counted.

In addition to TANF financial assistance, the child(ren) in your care may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if the child is physically, mentally or emotionally challenged. SSI is accessed through the Social Security Administration, not through the social services agency.

If the child is in the legal custody of the local department of social services and living in your home, you may apply to be an approved foster care parent. Talk with your social service representative about what would be involved in becoming a licensed foster parent.

Finally, if you decide to adopt your kin, the child may be eligible for adoption subsidy. An adoption subsidy can be a payment on behalf of a child placed in an adoptive home. The intent of a subsidy is to assist families financially when they adopt a child with special needs, such as a child who is hard to place (over 12 years of age), is of a sibling group, or a minority, or has special medical needs. Talk with your social service representative to see if your child is eligible for an adoption subsidy.

Are there support groups available?

Several support groups have formed nationwide. Support groups can be an important resource to discuss and resolve family dilemmas with peers who are going through similar situations. You can learn more about other community resources, create a network connection, and have an opportunity to share your circumstances with people who really understand and will not be judgmental.

To access the support group nearest you, contact your social worker, local social service agency, local office on aging, or nonprofit social service agencies such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Grandparent Information Center -- AARPGIC, 601 E Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20049; telephone 202/434-2296.

If you are ambitious and energetic, you can create a support group. To get your own support group started:
  • Contact physicians, social workers, teachers and other professions and institutions in your area that work with others in your situation. Ask them to publicize your meetings to their clients, family members, colleagues and organizations.

  • Call the national organizations and ask for advice, contacts and printed guidelines on starting a support group.

  • Post fliers in social service agencies, senior centers, places of worship, doctors' offices and wherever people may congregate.

  • Submit an article or press release to your local newspaper, TV and radio stations. Ask the media to promote your group as a public service or to do a feature story about your support group.
Once you have convened a support group be sure to allow for personal, informational and resource sharing during the meetings.

Should you have an interest in starting a support group, below are two publications on how to start a support group:
  • Starting/Running Support Groups by Buz & Joanie Overbeck, 1992, TLC Group, (P.O. Box 28551, Dallas, Texas 75228; telephone: 214/681-5303).

  • Tips for Grandparents: Starting a Support Group, 1996, by AARP Grandparents Information Center, (601 E Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20049; telephone 202/434-2296).

What legal rights and responsibilities do I have?

Relatives' legal rights vary from state to state. However, if the child in your care is in an informal arrangement (you or the state do not have legal custody), all legal rights remain with the parents. The parents may, at will, come to take their child. A permanent legal arrangement should be considered such as legal custody, guardianship or adoption to keep the child safe and secure.

If you have legal custody of the child, you have the right to make day to day decisions for the child, which includes enrolling him/her in school, taking him/her to the doctors. The parents' legal rights are not terminated. However, the parents must petition the courts if they want to get their child back. This means they must prove to the courts that they are willing and able to care for their child and that it is in the best interest of the child. Many families like custody orders because they are not too hard to get and they still allow parents a legal role.

If you have adopted your grandchild, niece or nephew, you are the child's legal parents. The child is entitled to your social security and health benefits and any inheritance. The birth parents rights have been terminated.

This does not mean that the child can never see their parents again. The decision is yours to make. In fact, some courts may write in the court decree that visitation may continue between the child and the parents.

To find which legal option is best for you and the child in your care, talk with your attorney or a social worker. All legal arrangements are serious decisions. It is suggested that you meet with your family members to discuss the appropriate plan for the child and family.

How do federal laws impact kinship care in the child welfare system?

Current kinship care policy and practice is shaped by federal and state policies and the result of litigation against child welfare agencies.

Federal legislation impacting kinship care includes The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272); Title IV of the Social Security Act; the U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Miller v. Youakim (1979); and The Indian Child Welfare Act (P.L. 95-608). The legislation most directly related to the funding of kinship care is Title IV of the Social Security Act, and additional requirements are imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Miller v. Youakim (1979).

Title IV of the Social Security Act authorized welfare grants to be received by relatives.

The U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Miller v. Youakim (1979) entitled relatives to receive the same federal foster care benefits as those received by non-relative foster parents providing that the kinship placements are eligible for federal reimbursement under the AFDC-Foster Care Program which is Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. The child must be in the legal custody of the state.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) is the most recent federal legislation representing both a continued commitment towards family and an attempt to promote adoption.
  • The Act establishes new time lines and conditions for filing termination of parental rights. States must file a petition to terminate parental rights and concurrently, identify, recruit, process and approve a qualified adoptive family on behalf of any child, regardless of age, if the child has been in foster care for 15 out of the most recent 22 months. Exceptions can be made to these requirements if at the state's option, a child is being cared for by a relative.

  • The Act requires notice of court reviews and an opportunity to be heard is sent to relatives, foster parents and pre-adoptive parents. A relative, foster parent or pre-adoptive parent caring for a child must be given notice of and an opportunity to be heard in any review or hearing involving the child. This provision does not require that any relative, foster or pre-adoptive parent be made a party to such a review or hearing.

  • The Act requires the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to complete a study on kinship care.

  • The Act requires HHS to convene an advisory panel to review the Kinship Care Report on state kinship care policies, kinship care provider characteristics and household characteristics, kinship care cost and funding sources.

What literature is available on kinship care?

Hitting Close to Home, an article by Robert L. Little, which appeared in CWLA's Winter 1998 issue of Children's Voice magazine.

Valentines All Year Long an article by Frances Diana Hayden, which appeared in CWLA's Winter 1998 issue of Children's Voice magazine.

There Ought to be a Law an article by Ruth Dominguez, which appeared in CWLA's Winter 1998 issue of Children's Voice magazine.

The following books can be purchased through CWLA on the Publications Page:

Crumbley, Joseph & Little Robert L. Relatives Raising Children: An Overview of Kinship Care (Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America), 1997. Cost: 16.95.

Wilson, Dana & Chipungu, Sandra, et. al. Child Welfare Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program Special Issue on Kinship Care. (Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America), 1996. Cost: $18.00.

Wilson, Dana & Chipungu, Sandra, et. al., Children's Voice Magazine, Kinship Care: A Natural Bridge (Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America), 1994. Cost: $8.95.

Below is a short list of books on kinship care:

Hill, Robert B. The Strengths of African American Families, 1997, (R &B Publishers, 907 6th Street, S.W., Suite 216-C, Washington, DC 20024).

Madison Poe, Lenora, Black Grandparents as Parents, 1992, (2034 Blake Street, Berkeley, California).

Stack, Carol, All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in the Black Community, 1970, (Harper Collins Publications, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299).

Takas, Marianne, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Guide to Finding Help and Hope, 1995, (Cost: $3;The Grandparents Guide, the Brookdale Foundation, 126 East 56th Street, New York, NY 10022).

White, Alexandra, et. al., Grandparents Raising the Next Generation, 1994, (Boston: Aging Concerns, Young and Old United; telephone: 617/241-0740).

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