Informal Relative Caregivers, Formal Kinship Care, and Post Permanency Services

 

Monarch Family Services compassionately and professionally delivers services to improve the lives of children and to strengthen families. Our agency is family-focused because we recognize every child and family has a unique path toward healing. MFS provides integrated and comprehensive services across family service spectrum.

 

Child Welfare Bills Support Relative Caregivers

For the first time, formal kinship care began in 1979 with Miller v. Youakim United States Supreme Court decision. This court decision mandated that child welfare agencies allow family members that meet the licensing requirements as foster parents receive the same financial benefits (McGowan & Walsh, 2000) as non-related foster parents. The passage of the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act required Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies to make reasonable efforts avoiding unnecessary removal of children from their homes and to reunify foster children with their families (relatives) whenever possible (Rolock, 2015). The opponents of this bill felt these families were unable to meet the needs of these vulnerable children regarding their safety, health, and well-being. However, there was ample support that the best route for permanency is for a child to maintain family connections.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) was enacted in 1997 due to public concern that children remained in foster care for extended periods and/or experienced multiple placements. This bill mandates each state to make every effort to find permanent placements and to give preference to relative caregivers when making permanency decisions (Testa, 2004). The 2008 Fostering Connection to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act is a bill allowing states to offer grandparents and other relatives kinship guardian assistance payments when they have assumed legal guardianship of children for whom they have (1) cared for as foster parents; or (2) committed to on a permanent basis.

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 has a provision for relative caregivers ensuring children continue to be cared for by a legal guardian named in the kinship guardianship assistance agreement when the first relative guardian dies or becomes unable to provide care for the child.

February 9, 2018, Congress passed the Federal Family First Act. The intention of this bill is to prevent children from entering foster care by providing the family federal reimbursement for mental health services, substance use treatment, and in-home parenting skill training. The FFFA also seeks to improve the well-being of displaced children currently in foster care by encouraging states to reduce placement of children in congregate care (i.e. residential treatment centers, group homes, shelter, etc.). In regards to kinship care, more funding will be allocated for prevention programs, improvements to the kinship home licensing system, and reforming adoption and legal guardianship processing and programs.

Nationwide, approximately 30% of children in conservatorship live with people considered relatives (Parolini, 2018). In Texas, the percentage of formal relative caregivers correlates with the national numbers. The highest rate of relative caregivers is in the South and Southwestern states, with African American families overrepresented compared to the general population of Americans of color. Monarch Family Services is a “Kin First Agency”. If it is possible for children to maintain family connections, then the agency supports those relationships for permanency. The agency has three programs for relative caregivers and details are provided in the following section:

  1. Informal Programs
  2. Formal Programs
  3. Post Permanency Programs 

 


 

Can Legislation Protect Informal Relative Caregivers?

Relatives who volunteer to provide a home to children in cases when the biological parent(s) cannot provide care account for the largest population within alternative care arrangements. When Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) are not involved or have closed a DFPS case, the child is considered in an informal relative placement.

Nationally, there are 48% of children who do not reside with a biological parent and are in a voluntary, informal relative placement. Breaking down this number, most children that reside with a relative, 59% or 1,360,000 children, live with grandparents. About a fifth of this population, 19% or 440,000 children, live with biological aunts and uncles. The remaining 22% live with other relatives, such as, older siblings or cousins.

Relative caregivers average age is between of 40 – 60. In a quarter of grandparent-led homes, the majority are at or below the poverty line and more than half fall below 200% of the percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).The FPL is a measurement of the minimum amount of annual income that is needed for individuals and families to pay for essentials, such as room and board, clothes, and transportation. The 200% FPL’s monthly dollar income equivalent for a family with two adults and four children is $5,860.1

Children placed in homes with relatives are observed to have worse reading levels and limited access to academic resources than unrelated foster homes. In contrast, the kinship caregivers reported having a more stable environment with fewer behavior and mental health problems than children in foster care with unrelated caregivers even though the relative families are not aware of nor do they avail themselves of child care resources (Hegar and Scannepieco, 2017). Overall, children raised by relatives, as adults have reported better well-being than children in foster care (Winokur et al., 2014).

The Kinship Navigator Program was developed in 2004 by Casey Family Programs. These kinship navigator projects offer information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children. The program links the families to benefits and services they or the children needs. There have been positive outcomes from implementation of these programs in the states of Washington, Florida, and New York. A five-year evaluation of Florida’s 2012 navigator program found that 99% of participants’ children did not enter the child welfare system at the 12-month follow-up period, reflecting placement stability and child safety. In addition, the cost for the program is 6 times less expensive than foster care and 21 times lower than residential group care (Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, 2018).

The Community-Based Informal Relative Caregiver Program was by Monarch Family Services (MFS) Spring 2020. At this time, MFS had become a premiere program for formal caregivers (family is involved with Child Protective Services). Before 2020, MFS had assisted only a few relative caregivers without an active CPS case to qualify for state services and assistance.

Informal caregivers have a tremendous need for support; the agency considered this issue and started a program to meet this need.

MFS receives program referrals of families from schools, churches, pediatricians, DFPS Investigations, and word of mouth. The family’s intake process includes a needs assessment and a list of services that the agency provides. An MFS case manager works with the family to provide other referrals that are not offered directly by our agency. The case manager works with the family until all immediate needs are met and informs them of other supportive services.

The current programs and services that Monarch Family Services offers to informal relative caregivers include:

  • 24/7 Crisis Hotline Access
  • Advocacy
  • Behavioral Health / Psychological Services
  • Case Management
  • Invitations to MFS Family Events (i.e. annual picnic and Christmas party)
  • Online Support Groups
  • Parent Support Group
  • Resource Referrals

As the program matures and additional funding is secured, the agency plans to offer relative caregivers additional services, including:

  • Educational Support (i.e., tuition for tutoring programs)
  • Legal Assistance
  • One Time Financial Support (for emergency immediate needs)
  • Peer to Peer Support
  • Respite Care

The average taxpayer’s cost for a child placed in foster care for one year is $25,782. These fees include $19,107 for maintenance and $6,675 for administration. MFS’s Community Based Informal Relative Caregiver Program costs on average $250 per child each year. This amount is based on the program serving 700 children, annually. Other benefits include the ability of most children to maintain in their sibling group, to have strong perceptions of cultural identity and connection, to participate in visits with biological parents, and maintain a stable placements.

 

Formal Kinship Caregivers

Monarch Family Services (MFS) has assisted in home verification, monitoring, and permanency processing for formal relative caregivers since 2014. The agency licenses the caregiver for adoption, foster-to-adoption, or foster-to-primary managing conservator. We have created a program model that successfully delivered compassionate, family-specific services, designed for this population. The agency uses principles of the chaos theory to steer this program. Chaos Theory (sometimes known as the Butterfly Effect) states that a very small change can make a system behave completely differently. The guiding principle is that a minor change at the start of a process, can alter the outcome of the process over time, resulting in radical change. With this guiding principle, the MFS model has become sensitive to the specific needs of each family and has two overriding goals for the child; heal from past trauma and maintain a stable, healthy home environment.

Monarch Family Services has an impeccable home development department. From intake to home verification, the families receive personalized services and support, in order to assure successful completion of the home licensing process. In the past six years, we have had a 97% success rate with kinship families completing the home licensing process which resulted in the families being eligible to obtain State Funding (foster care and/or adoption subsidies). MFS offers kinship families:

  • Behavior Health and Psychological Services by the
  • Complete RISK
  • Expert Staff In-Home Development and
  • Financial Assistance for home licensing requirements (i.e., fingerprints, home safety equipment, home inspections, ).
  • Intensive Case Management
  • Completion of Home verification process in 90 day or
  • In-home Orientation and trainings

Once the kinship home is verified, the agency works with a CPS Worker to get the children officially placed in the home within 3 days so payments can start for the foster to adopt or foster to PMC cases. For straight adoption kinship cases, the caseworker receives the documents from the agency for the subsidy packet immediately at the home opening to expedite the placement process. At home opening, adoption families are given the subsidy documents they need to complete and a list of adoption attorneys that the agency has successfully worked with in past cases.

Monarch Family Services has a phenomenal Family Support Specialist (FSS) team that monitors the homes until permanency is achieved. The FSS assist CPS case managers and the Attorney(s) to prevent any issues with the final process. At the time of permanency, the families are informed of Monarch Family Services post-permanency services and encouraged to contact MFS with any problem, concern, or question, to support the family after the CPS case is closed.

 

Post Permanency Support

After the CPS case is closed, there are many risk factors that would cause children to reenter foster care. These risk factors include the following:

  • Race—African American children are more likely to return to foster
  • Age–older child (7+ years of age) have a greater change to be deemed “unparent-able” and returned to foster
  • Mental Health Issues—these children suffer from a plethora of mental diagnoses at all ages. The kinship guardian may not be equipped to understand and support the diagnosis—medication, customized activities at home and at school, and unique physical environments.

These children are returned to foster care multiple times, prior to their exiting to guardianship. The mean age of permanency discontinuity (return to foster care) is 12.4 years old. The re-entry into foster care from a relative caregiver’s home occurs around the 30th month after the time of permanency. Post-permanency stability has been definitively associated with the availability, accessibility, quality, and utilization of post permanency services (Parolini et al., 2018).

In 2019, there were 6,107 adoptions in the State of Texas. Of those adoptions, 3,095 were by relatives. There were 6,063 relatives were granted permanency managing conservatorship.

Relative caregivers report more often, than any other group, that they do not receive any information on post permanency services. These caregivers tend to belong to lower socioeconomic levels, single, older, less educated, and have limited formal support.

Unfortunately, these families typically receive fewer services.

Monarch Family Services has established a post-permanency program for relative caregivers that have achieved their permanency goals with the agency. The caregivers are informed of MFS’s post permanency services during the initial orientation, at the time of placement, and when permanency is achieved. These families are encouraged to call the agency, at any point, to receive guidance and support.

The post permanency services that MFS offers the families are:

  • Individual Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Psychological Evaluation / Diagnostic Assessment
  • Parenting Support Group or Classes
  • Case Management Services
  • Information and Community Referrals
  • Educational Advocacy
  • Annual Foster and Adoption Picnic (May every year)
  • Online (Facebook) Support Group
  • Invites to other MFS Foster and Adoptive Parent Events

As additional funding is secured, Monarch Family Services would like to offer other post permanency services to relative caregivers, including:

  • Educational Support (tuition for tutoring programs)
  • Respite Care

The families can access any of these services until the child reaches adulthood. However, at any point when the adult adoptee or legal guardian needs guidance and assistance from the agency, they can receive services. Monarch Family Services is committed to the stability of the family to ensure child/children thrive.

 

1 2020 Health & Human Services Poverty Guidelines / Federal Poverty Levels,
https://www.payingforseniorcare.com/federal-poverty-level