What is Kinship Care?
When the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) is involved with a child, they may deem it necessary to remove the child from the home. Typically, a child is removed if the parent cannot provide safety, food, clothing, shelter, education or health care for the child. Upon removal, the parent can elect to place their child in the care of family—a kinship caregiver. In many situations, a kinship caregiver is a relative by blood, marriage, or adoption. However, the kinship caregiver may simply be a person who has played a significant role in the child’s life.
How is a Kinship Caregiver Appointed?
A kinship caregiver could be appointed by the parent signing an informal kinship caregiver agreement. This decision often happens quickly, on the spot, at the time when a child is being removed. A parent may have only a few hours, or less, to make this decision. The alternative is the child being placed in foster care. Other times, the Court may appoint a kinship caregiver.
What Does a Kinship Caregiver Do?
A kinship caregiver acts in a parenting role until a child can be placed back in the home or receives an alternative permanent placement. The kinship caregiver is responsible for the child’s needs, i.e., the safety, food, clothing, education, or health care, which may have been lacking in the child’s home. A kinship caregiver must be sure they can meet the child’s needs and uphold the requirements of DSS and the Court.
The kinship caregiver will be required to facilitate any visitation granted to the parents. If DSS or the Court requires a specific type of visitation, the kinship caregiver must uphold that requirement. For example, the kinship caregiver may be required to supervise visitation or participate in only public visitation, etc. If the siblings are not placed together, the child may have sibling visitation scheduled as well.
Kinship caregivers must also ensure the child attends any therapy required, be it physical or mental. Some children have multiple appointments per week above and beyond school and visitation. These obligations, along with daily care, can add up to a heavy role for the caregiver.
How Long Will a Kinship Caregiver Serve?
During the pendency of a DSS case, the agency will create a parenting plan. The parenting plan includes prerequisites placed on the parents before a child can be returned to their home. The kinship caregiver will be responsible for the child until DSS is satisfied that the parent has completed the parenting plan, and recommends that the Court close the action. A kinship caregiver could serve for a few months or a year or more depending on the particular case.
Can I Receive Financial Assistance or Services?
A kinship caregiver will not receive financial assistance or formal services from the state unless they are a licensed kinship foster parent. This is the primary difference in a kinship caregiver and a foster parent. A kinship caregiver can become a licensed kinship foster parent, which essentially means the same thing as becoming a foster parent. Once licensed, economic and support services would be available.
Licensed foster parents receive monthly board payments, Medicaid eligibility, vouchers for child care, training, and case management support. To become licensed, the caregiver must complete a background check, home inspection, medical disclosures, financial report, and training. Many kinship caregivers do not become licensed because they believe the child will return home soon only to find themselves months into the arrangement with no financial support. A DSS Kinship Care Coordinator can provide more information on the licensing process.
Should I Serve as a Kinship Caregiver?
Kinship caregivers admit they face this choice in a moment’s notice. They may receive a frantic call from a family member informing them that DSS is removing the child from the home. A grandparent, aunt/uncle, or family friend must decide whether to alter the dynamics of their own home to welcome a child in need. Emotions are high. The commitment of being a kinship caregiver is significant. The kinship caregiver must be dedicated to the child and the child’s best interests. Ultimately, the child may return home or different placement, and the kinship caregiver must be prepared for that transition too. Alternatively, the child may be with the caregiver far longer than expected and the child’s case may be more complex than anticipated. Patience and understanding are required for kinship caregivers. Each individual must make the decision of whether or not to serve for him or herself.
Will the Kinship Caregiver Receive Custody or Adopt the Child?
The primary goal of DSS is to reunite the child with the biological parents, or the return the child to the prior custodial arrangement. At times, this may place the kinship caregiver at odds with the agency. Occasionally, kinship caregivers will receive misleading information about their own ability to receive legal custody of the child, or may enter the role with the goal of adoption. Again, note that this is not a shared goal with DSS.
Each case is different, and a path to custody or adoption may be right for you. Consulting an experienced family law attorney can help guide a kinship caregiver in this situation.
To find out more about kinship caregivers, contact the attorneys at Hyde Law Firm, P.A., 864-804-6330.
Or learn of other ways we can help at: https://www.maxhydelawfirm.com/services/
Hyde Law Firm, P.A., proudly serves the Spartanburg and Greenville communities, South Carolina’s Upstate area.