Kinship Guardianship as a Permanency Option - Florida

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Definitions

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.01; 39.5086

The term 'permanent guardian' means the relative or other adult in a permanent guardianship of a dependent child under § 39.6221.

'Permanent guardianship of a dependent child' means a legal relationship that a court creates under § 39.6221 between a child and a relative or other adult approved by the court that is intended to be permanent and self-sustaining through the transfer of parental rights with respect to the child relating to protection, education, care and control of the person, custody of the person, and decision-making on behalf of the child.

'Fictive kin,' as defined by § 39.4015(2)(d), is an individual who is unrelated to the child by either birth or marriage but has such a close emotional relationship with the child that he or she may be considered part of the family.

The term 'kinship care' means the full-time care of a child placed in out-of-home care by the court in the home of a relative or fictive kin.

The term 'kinship navigator program' means a program designed to ensure that kinship caregivers are provided with necessary resources for the preservation of the family. The term 'relative' means an individual who is caring full time for a child placed in out-of-home care by the court and who is either of the following:

  • Related to the child within the fifth degree by blood or marriage to the parent or stepparent of the child
  • Related to a half-sibling of that child within the fifth degree by blood or marriage to the parent or stepparent

Purpose of Guardianship

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.5085

It is the intent of the legislature in enacting this section to:

  • Provide for the establishment of procedures and protocols that serve to advance the continued safety of children by acknowledging the valued resource uniquely available through grandparents, relatives of children, and specified nonrelatives of children
  • Recognize family relationships in which a grandparent or other relative is the head of a household that includes a child otherwise at risk of foster care placement
  • Enhance family preservation and stability by recognizing that most children in such placements with grandparents and other relatives do not need intensive supervision of the placement by the courts or by the Department of Children and Families
  • Recognize that permanency in the best interests of the child can be achieved through a variety of permanency options, including permanent guardianship under § 39.6221 if the guardian is a relative, that will achieve permanency and stability for many children who are otherwise at risk of foster care placement because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, but who may successfully be able to be placed by the dependency court in the care of such relatives
  • Reserve the limited casework and supervisory resources of the courts and the department for those cases in which children do not have the option for safe, stable care within the family

A Guardian's Rights and Responsibilities

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.6221

The court shall give the permanent guardian a separate order establishing the authority of the permanent guardian to care for the child and shall provide any other information the court deems proper to persons who are not parties to the proceeding as necessary, notwithstanding the confidentiality provisions of § 39.202.

A permanent guardianship of a dependent child established under this chapter is not a plenary guardianship and is not subject to the requirements of chapter 744.

Placement of a child in a permanent guardianship does not terminate the parent-child relationship, including:

  • The right of the child to inherit from his or her parents
  • The parents' right to consent to the child's adoption
  • The parents' responsibility to provide financial, medical, and other support for the child as ordered by the court

Qualifying the Guardian

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.521(2)(o)

If the child has been removed from the home and will be remaining with a relative, parent, or other adult approved by the court, a home study report must be completed. The study must include, at a minimum, the following:

  • An interview with the proposed legal custodians to assess their ongoing commitment and ability to care for the child
  • Child abuse and neglect records checks and local and statewide criminal and juvenile records checks on all household members age 12 or older
  • Fingerprint-based checks of any household members who are age 18 or older that are forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for State and national criminal history information
  • Out-of-state criminal records checks for any individual who has resided in a State other than Florida if that State's laws allow the release of these records
  • An assessment of the physical environment of the home
  • A determination of the financial security of the proposed legal custodians
  • A determination of suitable child care arrangements if the proposed legal custodians are employed outside of the home
  • Documentation of counseling and information provided to the proposed legal custodians regarding the dependency process
  • Documentation that information regarding support services available in the community has been provided to the proposed legal custodians
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference

Procedures for Establishing Guardianship

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.6221

If a court determines that reunification or adoption is not in the best interests of the child, the court may place the child in a permanent guardianship with a relative or other adult approved by the court if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The child has been in the placement for no less than the preceding 6 months.
  • The permanent guardian is suitable and able to provide a safe and permanent home for the child.
  • The court determines that the child and the relative or other adult are not likely to need supervision or services of the department to ensure the stability of the permanent guardianship.
  • The permanent guardian has made a commitment to provide for the child until the child reaches the age of majority and to prepare the child for adulthood and independence.
  • The permanent guardian agrees to give notice of any change in his or her residential address or the residence of the child by filing a written document in the dependency file of the child with the clerk of the court.
  • The child demonstrates a strong attachment to the prospective permanent guardian and such guardian has a strong commitment to permanently caring for the child.

Contents of a Guardianship Order

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.6221

In its written order establishing a permanent guardianship, the court shall:

  • List the circumstances or reasons why the child's parents are not fit to care for the child and why reunification is not possible by referring to specific findings of fact made in its order adjudicating the child dependent or by making separate findings of fact
  • State the reasons why a permanent guardianship is being established instead of adoption
  • Specify the frequency and nature of visitation or contact between the child and his or her parents
  • Specify the frequency and nature of visitation or contact between the child and his or her grandparents
  • Specify the frequency and nature of visitation or contact between the child and his or her siblings
  • Require that the permanent guardian not return the child to the physical care and custody of the person from whom the child was removed without the approval of the court

Placement of a child in a permanent guardianship does not terminate the parent-child relationship, including the following:

  • The right of the child to inherit from his or her parents
  • The parents' right to consent to the child's adoption
  • The parents' responsibility to provide financial, medical, and other support for the child as ordered by the court

Modification/Revocation of Guardianship

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.6221

The court shall retain jurisdiction over the case and the child shall remain in the custody of the permanent guardian unless the order creating the permanent guardianship is modified by the court. The court shall discontinue regular review hearings and relieve the department of the responsibility for supervising the placement of the child. Notwithstanding the retention of jurisdiction, the placement shall be considered permanency for the child.

Kinship Guardianship Assistance

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.5086; 39.6225

A kinship navigator program helps relative caregivers and fictive kin of children in out-of-home care to navigate the broad range of services available to them from public, private, community, and faith-based organizations. Each community-based care lead agency may establish a kinship navigator program that:

  • Coordinates with other State or local agencies that promote service coordination or provide information and referral services
  • Consults with kinship caregivers, youth raised by kinship caregivers, and relevant agencies and organizations
  • Provides information through a toll-free telephone hotline and a kinship care website
  • Promotes partnerships between public and private agencies, including schools, community-based or faith-based organizations, and relevant governmental agencies

The Guardianship Assistance Program provides guardianship assistance payments to relatives and fictive kin who meet eligibility requirements. To approve an application for the program, the department shall determine that all of the following requirements have been met:

  • The court has granted legal custody to the guardian.
  • The guardian has been licensed to care for the child.
  • The child was eligible for foster care payments for at least 6 consecutive months while residing in the licensed guardian's home.

Links to Agency Policies

Florida Department of Children and Families, Relative Caregiver Program (PDF - 377 KB)