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Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2010|
How the Child Welfare System Becomes Involved in Kinship Care
The involvement of the child welfare system in kinship care situations varies from State to State, since each State has its own laws and practices that govern these situations; it also varies from case to case, depending on the children's age, safety needs, the legal custody, and other differences. If American Indian or Alaska Native children are involved, the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act must be followed.2
The child welfare caseworker may be the person who initially approaches a grandparent or other relative and asks that person to take care of the children. In other situations, the family may contact the child welfare system for help. Some examples of these two types of contact are discussed here.
The Child Welfare System Makes the Contact
- A report of child abuse or neglect is made. Child protective services screen reports of child abuse and neglect, according to State policies and practices. If investigators believe that children are in danger in their own home, they may be removed. Since the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, agencies are required to exercise due diligence in finding and notifying all grandparents and other adult relatives within 30 days after children are removed. Caseworkers often ask a relative to keep the children until the case goes to court. If the case goes to court and the charges are proven, the court and the child welfare system may select relatives to care for the children until a parent can safely care for them, or an alternative placement may be made.
- Parents are arrested. Police may arrest a parent or parents but be willing to leave the children with a relative. The police then notify the child welfare agency of this temporary placement. Depending on the State laws and practice, the agency may leave the children with the relatives, take them into the State's legal custody and place them into nonrelative foster care, or take them into State custody but place them with the relatives.
- Parents die. In the event that both parents die or the parent with custody dies, the child welfare system may be responsible for locating relatives with whom the children can live. If no relatives can be located who are willing to take the children, they come into the legal custody of the State and may be placed into nonrelative foster care.
Parents or Other Family Members Make the Contact
- A parent leaves the children with grandparents or other relatives and does not return. This abandonment by a parent, even if it is temporary, may prompt the kin caregivers to call child welfare services and ask for help. In these situations, caseworkers may be able to offer services or they may help the kin to seek temporary legal custody through the court. However, if the parent remains missing and the kin cannot continue to care for the children, the children may be taken into the State's legal custody and placed in another home.
- Grandparents or other kin are no longer able to care for children under an informal arrangement. In these situations, the kin caregiver may have planned to care for the children for a long time without agency help, but an unexpected circumstance forces the caregiver to seek help from the child welfare agency. For instance, the caregiver may become ill, a child may suddenly need special services, or the caregiver may lose a job and no longer be in a position to financially support the children. The child welfare worker may be able to help arrange services for the kin caregiver or arrange other placements for the children.
- Parents voluntarily give up custody due to their own illness. Parents suffering from mental illness or from a debilitating illness such as HIV/AIDS may contact the child welfare agency themselves and ask the agency to take their children into legal custody. In such situations, caseworkers may seek out relatives with whom the children can be placed (physical custody), rather than placing them with unrelated foster parents. Many States have standby guardianship laws to address the needs of parents with debilitating or terminal illness. For more information on these State laws, see Information Gateway's Standby Guardianship.
- Parents no longer want a child or children to live with them. In such situations, the parents may turn over custody to the child welfare agency. This is more common when the children are teenagers. Most child welfare agencies are reluctant to take custody in these situations. However, if they do, the child welfare workers may look for relatives with whom the children can live.
2The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), P.L. 95-608, states that Tribes have the right to be involved in the child welfare and placement of tribal children. For more information, visit the website of the National Resource Center for Tribes.Back
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