What is Kinship Care?

    When a Child’s Welfare is at Stake

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    When John and Ann were in a serious automobile accident, they needed care for their children. Arrangements were made for the kids to stay with relatives in Virginia until their parents could recover. The caregiving relatives needed legal authority to make medical and school decisions for the children. That was when kinship care arrangements had to be made for the children.

    The term, kinship care, is one with which many people are not familiar, but it arises more often than you might think.

    There are many reasons children need to live with a relative. Sometimes, it is a result of a parent’s illness, lack of housing, or insufficient income to care for the children. Sometimes it is a result of a parent’s incarceration or the abuse or neglect of a child. Kinship care arrangements can be voluntary or involuntary, and can be handled in such a way that there is significant support for the kinship caregivers.

    There are various kinds of kinship care arrangements a court can make. It can award custody to the kinship caregiver or it can allow the caregiver to become a foster parent with the local department of social services retaining legal custody of the child. In addition, if the caregiver is a foster parent in circumstances where the court terminates parental rights, the court can grant adoption rights to that foster parent.

    The resources and finances available for a kinship caregiver are affected by the kind of order that is entered, so it varies depending on whether the caregiver has custody, the department of social services has custody, or the kinship caregiver becomes the adoptive parent of the child.

    Information is available from the Virginia Department of Social Services explaining those differences. This is invaluable information which someone thinking of kinship care should be sure to obtain.

    Anyone considering becoming a kinship caregiver for a relative needs to carefully assess whether or not taking on this responsibility will work for them, as it is not just a matter of opening your heart to relatives who need a home, but it also is taking on significant responsibility for the children and for their care, education, health, and well-being, often in uncertain circumstances.

    In its brochure about kinship care, the Virginia Department of Social Services suggests a relative who is thinking of offering this kind of care ask the following questions:

    • What is my relationship with the child’s parents/guardians?

    • Will I have my family’s support?

    • How will this impact my own children and spouse?

    • Do I understand the circumstances surrounding this child’s removal from the parents?

    • How do I feel about those circumstances?

    • How will this affect my relationship with the child’s parents and extended families?

    • Will I be able to set limits with the parents?

    • Will I be able to let this child go back home when the time comes?

    • Will I be able to offer this child a permanent home if necessary?

    Checking out the resources and options, and answering those questions honestly after careful thought will help a person thinking of offering kinship care determine whether or not it is feasible for them to offer the help they greatly wish to give. In addition, when thinking about becoming a kinship caregiver, some people might talk with an attorney to be sure they understand the legal ramifications and related options.

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    Phoebe Hall
    Phoebe P. Hall is an elder law, estate planning, and family law attorney who has been practicing law since 1969. She is CEO of Hall & Hall, PLC and sits on the board of visitors for Virginia Commonwealth University. A Richmond resident, she has two children and three granddaughters.