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Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2010|
Permanent Families for the Children
"Permanency" is a term used by child welfare workers to mean a permanent family or family relationship for a child. A "permanency plan" is a plan for determining where a child will grow up. Some of the options that might be considered by the court for permanency include reunification, guardianship, and adoption.
ReunificationReturning the children home and reuniting them with a parent or parents is the first choice of child welfare agencies when this option will ensure the safety and well-being of the children and provide a permanent family for them. Reunification of the family can occur when the judge agrees that the parents have met the goals set out in their service plan, for instance, completion of substance abuse treatment. Each State has different laws, and it is the judge in a review hearing or permanency hearing who makes the decision to give custody of the children back to the parent. The judge bases this decision on evidence from the parent, the child welfare worker and agency, other adults who may be involved, and often, the children and the kin caregiver.
GuardianshipGuardianship is a legal option for permanency, and it may be especially appropriate in kinship care. Federal law encourages States to consider a relative rather than an unrelated person when seeking a guardian for a child who cannot return home.
When a grandparent or other relative becomes the child's legal guardian, legal custody is transferred from the State to the relative by a court; therefore, in most circumstances there is no further involvement by the child welfare agency. In guardianship arrangements, the parents' parental rights are not terminated. Thus, the grandparent or other relative who becomes a child's guardian has legal and physical custody to act as the child's parent and make decisions about the child, but the birth parent often retains some visitation or other rights. Guardianship is especially appropriate if the children are older and want to maintain some ties with their parents, or if the grandparent or other relative caregiver prefers not to have the parents' rights terminated (as in adoption) but needs to establish a permanent legal arrangement with the children in order to be able to make education, health-care, and other decisions for the child.
Some States have subsidized guardianship programs so that the guardian continues to receive a payment similar to the payment he or she received as a foster parent. This allows the children to have a permanent family relationship without causing the guardian to lose necessary monthly subsidies. The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 gave States the option to use Federal title IV-E funds for kinship guardianship assistance. In subsidized guardianship, there is some ongoing involvement of the child welfare agency, although it is significantly less than in foster care. For instance, the child welfare worker may visit once a year to make sure that the child is still living with the relative and to determine if services are still needed.
AdoptionSome kin caregivers choose to adopt their grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or other relative children in order to give them a permanent home. Also, since adoption is often the agency's preferred permanency plan for children not returning home, relatives may adopt in order to keep from losing the children to nonkin families who are willing to adopt them. Adoption assistance (subsidies) may be available to kin families who adopt.
As with foster care and guardianship, the child welfare agency will have to ensure that the home and prospective adoptive parents meet certain State standards for the safety and well-being of the children. Standards for adoption may be more stringent than those for foster care in some States. These requirements and standards will apply even for kin who have been caring for the children under a foster care arrangement.
Children can be adopted only after the court has terminated all the legal rights of the parents or the parents have voluntarily surrendered all of their rights permanently. A court must finalize the adoption. Depending on their age and the State law, courts will often ask the children if they agree to the adoption. For children with special needs who have been in foster care, there may be ongoing adoption assistance (subsidies) available to kin who adopt.
Once the adoption is finalized, the grandparent or other relative becomes the legal parent of the child; there is generally no further involvement by the child welfare agency after that finalization, except in circumstances involving adoption assistance. (For more information on adoption assistance, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted From Foster Care.)
- What is the current permanency goal for each child? (Siblings may not have the same goal.)
- What are options for the children if they can never return to their parents?
- What are my options if the children cannot return to their parents?
- Under what circumstances can I receive a subsidy to help pay for the children's care?
- Will the legal arrangement be affected when the children turn 18?
- How will the child welfare agency continue to be involved with my family?
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