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Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2010|
What to Expect From the Child Welfare System
After the children are placed in their home, kin caregivers may wonder what they can expect in their future dealings with the child welfare system. Much of the ongoing relationship with child welfare will depend on whether the legal custody of the children remains with the parents or kin caregiver (voluntary kinship care) or with the State or child welfare agency (formal kinship care).
Voluntary kinship caregivers may expect a range of assistance from child welfare caseworkers. In States where this type of arrangement is accepted and promoted by child welfare, kinship caregivers may find that caseworkers are involved in the following ways:
- Ensuring safety. Caseworkers may need to ensure that the kin caregivers and their homes meet minimal requirements for the safety of the children. For instance, most States require that child welfare workers check on whether anyone in the household has a criminal record or a previous record of child abuse or neglect. The primary concern of the caseworker is for the safety of the children.
- Visiting. In some States, the caseworker may make periodic visits to ensure that the children remain in a safe environment.
- Offering services. Some States have services available for children and families in voluntary kinship care. For instance, these might include referrals to therapy for the children. (More information on "Services" is provided below.)
- Changing the custody status. If the children's parent is not meeting the requirements set out in the service plan or if the children are placed in dangerous situations by the parent who has legal custody, the caseworker may help the kin caregiver to petition the court for temporary legal custody of the children. Or, the caseworker may go to court and petition to have the children placed in the legal custody of the State.
In some voluntary kinship cases, there may be very limited contact with the child welfare agency. Once the caseworker has completed background checks on the kin, the caseworker may be satisfied that the children are in a safe environment and may not contact kin again. In such situations, kinship caregivers who need help or services may need to contact the caseworker or locate community services themselves.
Formal kinship care includes much more involvement with the child welfare system, because the State has legal custody of the children. All States have requirements that nonkin foster parents must meet before they can care for children in their home through the foster care system. Also, kin caregivers are usually given some flexibility in the amount of time needed to meet the State's requirements, because the placement of the children is often unexpected.
Compared to voluntary kinship placement, caregivers in formal kinship care will find that they have more structured involvement with the child welfare system, as well as access to more services. Caregivers may find that some of this structure is helpful in dealing with the children's parents, schools, or medical care arrangements; on the other hand, caregivers have less freedom to make decisions on their own about the children. The following are some of the ways that the child welfare system may be involved in kinship foster care:
- Ensuring safety or licensing standards. Caseworkers will check to see if the kinship caregiver or any other adult living in the home has a criminal record or a record of child abuse or neglect. Caseworkers may be required by the State to consider the size of the home, the income of the caregiver, others who live in the home, and available transportation. While the passage of the Fostering Connections Act in 2008 gave States the option to waive nonsafety licensing standards on a case-by-case basis in order to place children with relatives, most States require relative caregivers to complete all standard requirements for licensure. Some States will waive some requirements if they do not affect the child's health or safety. Kinship caregivers may be required to enroll in foster parent training. Caregivers should ask whether they are required to be licensed in order to care for the children, and whether licensing will allow them to receive foster care payments.
- Supervision/Support. The caseworker will support all the family members to ensure the children are safe and doing well. To do this, part of the caseworker's job includes making telephone calls and periodic visits to the home. The caseworker may also provide referrals for services, such as counseling. In most situations, the relative caregiver will be the person who takes the children to the doctor or health clinic and deals with any school situations. In some situations, the caseworker will have more responsibility for making arrangements for these services. The caseworker and family members, including the kin caregivers, should work together to ensure that the children's needs are met.
- Arranging parent-child visits. In most situations, the court will encourage the parent or parents to visit their children. The caseworker will work with the parents and kin caregivers to set up the schedule and make arrangements for the visits. In some cases, kin caregivers may be responsible for providing transportation for the children or for supervising the visits in their own home.
- Service planning. With input from the parent(s) and often from the children, other relatives, and other involved adults, the child welfare agency will develop a service plan (sometimes called a "case plan" or "permanency plan"). The service plan covers two major issues:
- (1) A permanency goal for each child. The permanency goal states where that child will grow up. In most situations, the permanency goal for a child is to move back with a parent (sometimes called "family reunification"). Many States require "concurrent planning," which means that the child welfare agency must create a primary plan and a backup plan. Often, the primary plan or goal will be to return the child to a parent. If this is not possible, the backup plan may be for the kin caregiver to become the child's adoptive parent or legal guardian.
- (2) Actions that the parent and child welfare system need to take so that the children can be allowed to return home to that parent or so that another permanency goal can be achieved. For parents who have abused alcohol or drugs, the service plan will state that the parent must successfully complete substance abuse treatment. For parents who have abused or neglected their children, the plan may include parent training. There may also be requirements for others involved with the children.
Service plans should be reviewed at least every 6 months to see if everyone is meeting their goals. Kinship foster caregivers should be involved in or consulted about the creation of the plan and should receive copies of the plan.
- Who has legal custody of the children?
- What rights and responsibilities does legal custody give in this State? Physical custody?
- May I receive a copy of the signed voluntary placement agreement? (when applicable)
- May I be involved in developing the service plan and receive a copy of the plan?
- Will I or the children have to go to court?
- Who is responsible for enrolling the children in school, obtaining health insurance, granting permission for medical care and obtaining it, signing school permission forms, etc.?
- Will someone from child welfare services visit my home on a regular basis?
- What are the requirements for me and my home if I want the children to live with me?
- Are the requirements different if the children are with me just temporarily?
- What services are available for me and for the children, and how do I apply?
- Are there restrictions on the discipline I can use (such as spanking) with the children?
- What subsidies or financial assistance is available? What do I need to do to apply?
- Am I eligible to become a licensed foster parent and receive a foster care subsidy?
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