Kinship Care… Are you ready?
You are being asked to care for a friend or relative’s child…it is a HUGE responsibility. There are many things to consider before you make the decision to provide care for a child in need. Please read through this pamphlet and take the test at the end to determine you and your family’s ability to handle this big responsibility.
– What exactly does Kinship Care Mean?
Kinship Care is a small word that means a big commitment. When you decide to take on the responsibility of providing care for a friend or relative’s child, you choose to be the stand in parent without the benefit of a parent’s rights. You understand that DSS and the child and family team will attempt to reunify the children with their parents after they obtain and complete the treatment that DSS requests. You choose to be a strong and safe support system for a child who has been through a really tough situation. You choose to remain committed to the child through the thick and thin of the healing and reunification process. From the beginning, you will likely not know how long your role will last or when the child will go home. This can be an emotional process and you may not always have the answers a child wants along the way. Being a kinship provider requires a lot of faith, hope, and love on your part for a child in their time of need.
-What is my responsibility as a kinship provider?
As a kinship provider, you will be the stand in parent for a period of time. You will be responsible for getting the child to and from school, all appointments, visitations with parents, as well as any extra activities they may have (like sports, school activities, tutoring). You will also be responsible for making and taking a child to doctors appointments, staying with them when they are ill, and making sure they get all their prescribed medications. Though there MAY be some financial resources to help if you are a blood relative, you will be responsible for this child financially until they return to their parents. Unlike foster care, you do not get a monthly check just for taking care of the child. You will also be expected to give feedback on the child’s progress to the child and family team, whose responsibility it is to determine when the child goes back home or to another permanent placement. Being a kinship care provider is a very big responsibility.
-What financial resources are out there to help me?
Depending on if you are related to this child or not, there may be some limited monthly funds to help with the care of the child. As a kinship provider, you have the right to request child support from the parents through child support enforcement. You also have the right to request food stamps and Medicaid to help support the child. There are also resources in the community that you can utilize for food, clothing, and help paying bills. These resources are not something you can count on to help out financially, but they may be available in times of emergency. It is very important that as a kinship provider, you think about what financial abilities you have or can access before agreeing to be financially responsible for this child, which IS an expectation of a kinship provider.
-Do I have Custody of this child?
When a child first comes into kinship care, as a kinship provider, you are a stand in parent without the legal protection of a custodian or a parent. The family social worker will help the family to sign a notarized document that states they are temporarily giving you the right to enroll the child in school, seek medical care, transport, and provide daily care for the child. As a kinship provider, you DO NOT have custody, guardianship, or parental rights over a child. If the family becomes involved in DSS court, and a Judge feels the child cannot safely go back to their parents, the social worker may talk to you about obtaining guardianship or custody over a child, however this is not the goal for children in kinship care.
-How do I handle the doctor and dentist and the school?
Once you are officially signed on to be a kinship provider, the family’s social worker will give you a form called the temporary care agreement
which will give you the ability to take the child to the doctor, dentist, or to handle school issues. You must keep this form with you at all times as you cannot prove you have the ability to make decisions for the child without it.
-How do I deal with the parents of this child?
Dealing with parents of a kinship placement can be one of the most challenging aspects of your job as a kinship provider. Because the parents have done something to threaten the safety of their children, they are likely struggling with some major issues. On top of dealing with their own issues, this parent has lost control of their life to the point their child must be placed outside the parent’s care for the child’s safety. No matter what judgments you may have about the parents of a kinship child, it is EXTREMELY important that the child does not know. It is very detrimental to a child to feel caught between two caregivers…especially when one is mom or dad. You will be expected to set appropriate limits with the parents on everything from how often they can call to telling DSS if the parents do something dangerous. It is also important that you understand it may be very hard to set these limits and to also know you will likely have to give the child back to these parents at some point. It is strongly advised that you ensure you have your own support system in place before you agree to take a kinship placement.
-How long will this last?
When agreeing to be a kinship provider, you will be signing on for an undetermined amount of time. It is the goal to get parents on the right track as soon as possible however, because we deal with addiction, abusive parenting, and serious mental health issues, sometimes kinship providers will end up providing care for a year or more. We cannot determine how long a kinship placement will last, but as a kinship provider, you are agreeing to be a placement for the child for as long as it takes to get them reunified with the parent.
-Will DSS be there to help me?
The DSS social worker for the family will be the person who calls the shots toward reunification, however, their primary responsibility it to the child and to the parents. They may not have a lot of time to help a kinship provider. Sometimes it may take the Social Worker at least twenty four business hours to call back or to get you the information you desire. You must be willing to be patient with the process. The Department has a person whose job it is to provide support to kinship families that will be able to help you learn how to handle some of the typical struggles of new kinship placements.
-What are the requirements of my house and family?
In order to qualify as a kinship provider, your home must be structurally sound, have appropriate plumbing and electric power, and have access to clean water for showering and drinking. The child may have special issues that may require a room without other children. Your home must be assessed by the Social Worker who will be looking at the criminal background of every adult in your home. The Social Worker will be concerned most with making sure there are not any sex offenders, violent offenders, or active drug users in the home, however, CPS history may also influence your ability to be a kinship caregiver. You must let the Social Worker know if you are moving or if others are moving into your home.
-Do the children get to visit with the parents?
The Department will give parents the right to one hour or supervised visitation per week minimum unless there is some reason that it is dangerous for the child to be with that parent. As the process of reunification continues, there will probably be longer periods of visitation for the children and parents. Sometimes that visitation will be supervised, other times it may not. It is however, your responsibility as the kinship provider to arrange for the children to get to and from visitation with the parents.
-Will I have to go to court?
It is not likely that kinship providers will need to show up in court if the family’s case is sent to court. Typically, the only times kinship providers are needed in court are when they are attempting to get guardianship of the children. However, there may be times the Social Worker feels it would be helpful for the kinship provider to be in court and will ask if you are available. It is also your right as a kinship to be present for court hearings as long as it does not prove to be a situation where the children would be at risk.
-What if the parents try to come take the children away?
Any person who has been a kinship provider probably had this question at one time or another. It is a scary scenario but a very rare one. Legally, the parents can pick up the children, however, as a kinship provider; you would need to immediately call the police and DSS as it is against the DSS safety agreement for the parents to come pick the child up. The police and DSS would go get the child and make sure they were safe. If the parents chose to do this, they would seriously jeopardize losing custody of their child.
-So why would I take on such a challenge?
Chances are that you are considering being a kinship care provider for the children because you have a strong connection with them and their parents. In fact, if you were not in the picture, it is very possible these children would go into foster care. You have been asked to take on a huge responsibility, but it also has a huge reward. The chances that this child is going to make it through this situation without long term emotional trauma, is much larger because of you. When children are able to maintain connections with family and community, their chances of being able to break the cycle of drug abuse, family violence, or school drop-out are much higher than children who were put into an unfamiliar setting such as foster care. Because of your willingness to take this challenge, you are giving this child a chance at a productive and healthy future they might not have had without you! Thank you!
Checklist -- Are You Ready?
Please take the following questionnaire and answer all questions honestly. If you answer no to any of the questions, you may want to reconsider your ability or willingness to become a kinship caregiver. It is very important you are prepared for your job as a kinship provider as you will be the person this child counts on to keep them safe and happy.
1. Am I willing to transport this child to all appointments and activities even if I have to rearrange my schedule?
2. Am I willing and able to make some adjustments to my budget and agree to meet this child’s expenses without a guarantee of financial help?
3. Am I willing to apply for food stamps, emergency assistance, or child support at the expense of the parents if I need help?
4. Am I willing to accept that I will likely have to give this child back to the parents if the child and family team decides the parents have gotten the treatment they needed?
5. Am I willing to stand up and enforce rules about this child’s contact with the parents even if I don’t agree?
6. Am I willing to understand I don’t control how long this placement lasts or if the child will be able to return to its parents?
7. Am I willing to work with the social worker by allowing them to visit the child and myself and by talking to the social worker about how the child is doing and what they need?
8. Am I willing to provide transportation to and from visitation between this child and the parent?
9. Am I willing to call law enforcement and DSS if I suspect the parents have taken the child before they have been allowed…even if it means the parents get upset with me?
10. Am I willing to handle the parents or other family members getting upset with me because they are unhappy about DSS being involved?