Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2010|
The child welfare agency is often involved in providing services to children and families or making referrals to other groups that provide services. Services and referrals are more likely to be available to children in formal kinship care than to those in voluntary kinship care. Early on in their involvement with the child welfare system, kin caregivers should ask about available services. Some of the different types are discussed below.
Therapy and CounselingChildren who have experienced abuse or neglect should be assessed to see what services they may need. Such services may include therapy or counseling. If children are assessed and it is determined that they require other special services, these may be available through child welfare agency referrals or through the schools. When the children are in the legal custody of the State, as in kinship foster care, it is the responsibility of the child welfare agency to have the children assessed and to arrange for needed services, although kin caregivers may have to take the lead in arranging for these services. Kin caregivers should also follow the progress of the children's therapy and counseling.
Financial SupportMany grandparents and other relative caregivers struggle to provide for the children under their care. Depending on a number of factors, including the caregiver's age, caregiver's income, child's income, child's disability status, number of siblings, and the legal status of the caregiving arrangement (i.e., voluntary or foster care), there may be financial support available. Some of the programs include:
- The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to provide financial assistance while helping low-income families become self-sufficient. Caregivers do not need to have legal custody in order to apply for TANF benefits, but they do need to meet their State's TANF definition of a kin caregiver. A caseworker can provide information or refer a caregiver to the correct place to find information on eligibility for TANF, how to apply for benefits, documents and other information needed, and whether to apply just for the children or for the entire family. Even if a relative caregiver or the caregiver's family does not qualify for TANF benefits, it is possible to apply for and receive benefits for the relative children being cared for in the home. In these situations, only the children's income is considered for eligibility. If the children have little or no income, it is likely that they will be eligible to receive TANF benefits, and these benefits will be available until their 18th birthday.
- Food stamps are available to families with incomes below a certain level. In this case, the entire household's income is considered, and the relative children can be included in family size for determining benefit amount. A caregiver cannot apply for food stamps for the children only. Application for food stamps is generally made at the same office where TANF applications are made.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be available to children or caregivers who are disabled. This is also available to anyone over age 65. Information about SSI benefits is available from the local Social Security office or online.
- Kinship guardianship or foster care payments may be available to relative caregivers. The requirements for receiving these payments vary from State to State. However, since the passage of the Fostering Connections Act in 2008, States have the option to use title IV-E funds for kinship guardianship payments to support children and youth placed in guardianship arrangements with relatives.3 Relative caregivers who are licensed foster parents taking care of children placed with them by their local child welfare agency or court also may be eligible for such payments. These payments are generally higher than other forms of reimbursement, such as TANF. (Subsidized guardianship is described under "Permanent Families for the Children.")
Health InsuranceMany children being raised by relatives are eligible for medical insurance through either Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Medicaid provides coverage for many health-care expenses for low-income children and adults, including visits to the doctor, checkups, screenings, prescriptions, and hospitalization. State CHIPs cover many of these costs for children who are not eligible for Medicaid, although each State has different rules for eligibility and coverage. In most cases, only the child's income is used to determine eligibility for Medicaid or CHIP, not the income of the kin caregiver. The child welfare worker should be able to point the caregiver to the appropriate agency to apply for health insurance coverage through these programs. Every State permits grandparents or other kin caregivers to apply for Medicaid or a CHIP on behalf of the children for whom they are caring. Most States do not require the caregiver to have legal custody in order for the children to be eligible.
Respite CareGrandparents and other relative caregivers seeking a break from full-time child care may find some relief in respite care. Respite care refers to programs that give caregivers a break by taking over care of the children for short periods of time—either on a regular schedule or when a caregiver needs to travel, go into the hospital, or otherwise be away for a few days. In some respite programs, a respite caregiver comes into the home to care for the children; in other cases, the children attend a camp or other program away from the home.
Availability of respite care may be limited, and such availability may depend on the needs of the caregiver and/or the child. The child welfare agency should have more information about the availability of such programs, and caregivers should ask about these programs.
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