Despite all the great work I question why a grandmother would want to be a foster or adoptive parent to their grandchild. Currently, the reason is to have access to funding that has an eligibility requirement for the home to be licensed just as an unrelated foster or adopting caregiver. Less than 30% of relative caregivers that qualify to participate in the home licensing process complete it. The remaining opt out of participating in the home licensing process for various reasons but mostly because it adds more stress to an already complex situation. In many cases these family members have been providing care for the child(ren) for many months/years only to be faced with more obstacles to receive funding and support. Also, there is the “adoption” portion that is confusing to the family. Why must a grandmother adopt their grandchild to solidify the parent-child relationship? The existing process is disruptive, nonsensical, and injects a chaotic process into a family unit that is desperate for stability. The essential components of a family-centered Kinship Guardianship Program are yet to be determined; however, consider the following a blueprint based on the hundreds of kinship families we have served.
Title IV-E eligibility states that a “relative and unrelated caregiver home must be licensed as a foster family home for Title IV-E funding to be paid.” So essentially, a grandmother that has cared for their grandchild for months/years will have to meet foster care licensing requirements to qualify for financial assistance and support. Redesign of a federal fund model for a Kinship Guardianship Program would start with modifying the Title IV-E Eligibility Requirements for kinship families within the fifth degree (i.e.., Great-Great-Great Grandfather/Grandmother) of relationship. There have been proposals suggesting that kinship funds should be separated from Title IV-E completely and create specific federal requirements for kinship families to receive financial support from the government. Currently, a widely discussed requirement for foster care/adoption licensing for kinship families is background checks. Relatives that have a criminal history of child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, crime against a child, violent crime, or conviction in the past five years are ineligible and cannot be considered under Title IV-E. In some cases, this could potentially eliminate a suitable caregiver and result in a child having to enter foster care with an unrelated family. Criminal history should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the offense is more than 10 years old and the caregiver has not had any further criminal involvement, maintained stable income/employment, and is assessed as capable of providing a healthy home environment for a child(ren), then a Risk Assessment should be conducted to predict the probability of future crimes. If minimal to no risk is determined, then the potential relative placement should be regarded as suitable. There are home licensing training requirements mandated by the States for caregivers. Relative caregivers that are currently caring for the child(ren) should not be required to complete preservice training. Relative caregiver surveys have revealed that the training topics found most helpful include trauma intervention and behavior management. These trainings and others applicable to relative caregiving can be offered by the child placing agency as guidance and education to assist in the continuing care of the child(ren); however, receiving government funding and support should not be contingent on completion of a formal preservice training program.
The program for relative caregivers to receive financial assistance and guardianship (if it is determined the child(ren) will not return to the biological parents) should include the following:
I. Family Needs Assessment
II. Intensive Case Management (services that assists the family and not eliminate them as a
III. Mental Health Support for the child and family
IV. Home Safety Equipment Supplied by the State
V. Home Inspection and Assessment
The home inspection and assessment would provide an overview of the kinship family and home environment. It would also include the areas the agency would need to assist so that the child(ren) receives the best care. This is a supportive process rather than one that might eliminate the relative caregiver as a permanency option. An intimidating component of the licensing process is the constant monitoring of kinship homes by Child Protective Services (CPS). Once a relative has selected a private Child Placing Agency (CPA) CPS should discontinue the monthly visitation with the family and allow the CPA to build trust and rapport with the family. The CPA can report monthly to CPS regarding the family status and conduct quarterly (or more frequent if needed) in home visits until reunification or permanency is achieved. The major needs of these families include case management services, respite care, and a reliable support network. The child placing agencies that work with kinship families must have a program model that meets their specific needs in order to achieve stabilization in the home and assist with the permanency process. Terminology such as licensing, placement, foster, adopt, verification and others should be eliminated when working with kinship families. These families need compassionate support not governmental jargon. If the child(ren) is unable to return to the biological parents, then permanent guardianship should be achieved by the relative caregiver with the option of post permanency support. The financial commitment should continue, the same amount, until the child is 18 years old. The financial commitment is not foster care payment but a kinship stipend that is comparable. It is a hardship when the amount changes once permanency is achieved. So, the agreed amount should remain the same with an active CPS case and post permanency. Post Permanency Services for a relative caregiver should remain optional yet available. The family might need it after involvement with child protective services. The State of Texas procures providers for post permanency services. I have always felt that was an ineffective model due to the family having to build relationship with a new entity to receive support after the CPS case is closed. The family is least likely to seek assistance from the new entity (as opposed to their current child placement agency) because of the uncertainty that their needs will be met. My theory is that if resources were available for post permanency assistance with the child placing agency in which permanency was achieved then the family would more likely access services. Post Permanency support needs to be built into all Kinship Guardianship Programs. Why would a grandmother become the foster parent of her grandchild? Trust me, they do not want to! A new model is needed to provide the financial assistance and support needed to stabilize a kinship family and offer guardianship when reunification is not possible. Verifying relatives as foster/adoptive parents is an unsympathetic practice. As various departments of human services aim to implement best practices, the method in which we support relative caregivers must change to a model that positions the family to stabilize, heal, and thrive. It is time to structure an impactful program that changes the trajectory of the life of not only the child but the entire family system. The way we support kinship families can unequivocally have a positive impact on children today and future generations