Federal Reform Should Reward Kin Who Prevent Child Welfare Cases Too

by Jan Wagner


By “US,” I am referring to the more than 1.8 million children in the United States who are being raised by grandparents or other relatives outside the child welfare system. Only one out of 26 such families is receiving any government support, other than what they qualify for under federal poverty guidelines.

As an adoptive grandmother who raised her grandson for four and a half years, and  as an informal legal guardian, I am one of those families. When I read an article about the need for an increase in foster care services, my question is: what about Kinship?

As reported in a recent article in the Chronicle of Social Change, the Annie  E. Casey Foundation and The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative called for changes to federal child welfare funding. The part of their recommendation that drew my attention was: “More flexible licensing for kinship placements and a requirement that all children be placed in licensed homes.” 

Does this include those children who are presently in an informal arrangement? What about those children who are in a relative’s home without the child welfare system involved in placing them there? Frequently children are voluntarily relinquished to a relative home by the parents prior to protective services removal to keep the child from unnecessarily entering the system.

Although it is the belief of both parties involved that this will be a temporary situation, it often becomes a long-term or permanent situation. The children, in fact, become abandoned. But these relative families cannot access the funding or services available to foster families other than a small Child Only Grant (TANF), Medicaid, and possibly a work-only child care stipend.

It has been my understanding that under the current guidelines, a child must have been removed from their parental home by the child welfare department and placed with other family members in a licensed home to qualify for Title IV-E status. The family will then be eligible to receive subsidies, medical, case management and reimbursement for the child. Title IV-E eligibility is also necessary to qualify for a guardianship subsidy.

I struggle to understand why the process in which a child comes into a kinship home should be the determining factor as to whether any support or services are available for the child. It is as if relative families are being penalized for rescuing children from more harm by giving them a safe, nurturing environment before child welfare becomes involved.

Although there has been research into the best way to support kinship families, little has been done in the way of state or federal legislation. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but about using what is known and already available.

I would like to see less state discretion in adopting and implementing programs such as the guardianship subsidy, and more uniform and consistent federal guidelines. Currently, the amount of assistance a kinship family receives in one state is not the same as what is received by a similar family in another.

An increase in the amount of Child Only Grant money comparable to the amount of foster care reimbursement would help with immediate expenses. If, as the Casey paper states, that all children should be placed in licensed homes, then all relative caregivers should be allowed the opportunity to become licensed without fear of the children being removed during the process.

This would allow state oversight of the homes, training for the caregivers, and access to funding and support without surrendering jurisdiction of their family member to the state agency. Title IV-E qualifications should be amended to  include those children in kinship homes under legal guardianship for longer than six months, regardless of placement procedure, thus encouraging the permanency that all children deserve through the same incentives that are offered to foster families.

Should the state and federal governments want to widen eligibility for funding because it’s the right thing to do? Of course it is. But more to the point, the money is already allocated if a child is placed in foster care rather than being in kinship care, yet the administrative costs of the latter are far less. Instead of pouring more money into recruiting and retaining foster families, why not support and train relatives who are willing to take the children? Hasn’t it been proven that relative placement is best for a child whenever possible?

I know what it means to be ignored when asking for the some of the assistance received by foster care families. The roadblocks and challenges I encountered while attempting to advocate for services for my grandson are faced by kinship family homes nationwide. It is possible to close the gap between foster and kinship care, by legislative mandates to make these changes in the child welfare system.

Jan Wagner is the kinship chair for the Michigan Association of Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents

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  1. I adopted my grandson last week he’s two are we eligible for adoption subsidy? He’s got some medical problems and ISD teachers have come to home for lady two year’s. To help. He still don’t talk and his heading is at border line and he has other things as well

  2. My 4 grandchildren live with me. I have temporary legal guardianship. Their mother is deceased and whereabouts of their father is unknown. The oldest will be graduating next year. She is a gifted student and wants to attend college. We are sure she will be eligible for some scholarship funds but as a single caretaker of 4 children my funds will be limited as to how much I will be able to help her. We can’t get answers as to how the funding is going to work since she won’t be able to use my income when she applies for entrance. We are not sure where to go to get information. Any suggestions?

  3. Its important to keep family connections whenever a safe, loving and nurturing environment is availabe within the family unit. This said by a former foster who has little if any family connections due to fostering and lack of intent by bio family members. I often feel as if a bird who fell out of the nest and was no longer accepted in the bio family unit and unacceptable elsewhere. I know there is a better way to say this, but efficient communication is still a life skill gap for me. The effects of child abuse and survival. No sympathy please, just stated for awareness sake. Family is the most important gift we can give our children.

  4. Where can I sign up to support this? Raising two grandchildren for going on 13 years. Child only grant received in California.

  5. It is amazing when I was awarded custody of my nephew the first thing I was told was to go apply to DSS because that is the only thing available.

  6. They are just widening their money pools, they took my children and placed them with a non citizen of the united states and called it “kinship” care. CPS is aiming and is successfully warping to their own needs the definition of your family. Some states, three people are now considered parents. I don’t know what kind of b.s. legitimate program you think these agencies are running, but they certainly do not follow any laws.

  7. Thank you for the article. I recently took custody of my 3 year old grandson and I am gathering information about what is available to help support/raise him. I am struggling financially to work and keep him in day care So all the information is greatly appreciated.

  8. Thank you Jan for the voice for us grandparents. I too am one of these grand parents. I have ran into the same roadblocks and you and it absolutely frustrates me! I have temporary custody over my two grands for 5 years and receive a total of $241 a month to help out. We are not looking for a golden path just help that others get. And me and my husband will be looking at retiring soon. We did not plan on having anymore children. Therefore we did not plan our expenses to include raising kids. When my husband retires our income will be greatly diminished and our ability to generate generate addition income will be gone. I don’t mind sacrificing for my grands but I do resent the fact that since I agreed to take them temporarily that I cannot access the same funds I would have or any stranger would have had access to if DCF would have removed them. We would love to adopt my grandkids. But we would lose medical and the TANF (child only grant) $241 a month it is a very small portion of what I spend, but would hate to lose it.
    And just to dispell any misconceptions. We, grandparents, worked hard and support our families and children and DID NOT live off the government. We would like nothing better than to never take a tax payer dollar, but then reality sets in and we are forced to realize that we could use help.
    I hope more and more information is put out about the this situation.

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