Occasionally, parents find themselves unable to take care of their children–often temporarily– while they cope with problems with health, employment, housing, addiction, or other life issues. Parents may rely on kinship care: grandparents or other relatives who take in and care for their children.

According to the Annie E Casey foundation, 71,000 kids in Virginia lived in the care of grandparents in 2016. That’s 4% of Virginia children. An additional 55,000 live in kinship care with other relatives.

Nationally, 10% of grandparents live with grandkids (US Census data). Sixty percent of these grandparents are heads of households–and only 1/3 of these households also had one or more of the child’s parents living there.

Parents may seek kinship care for their children through informal arrangements, through legal guardianship, or through entrustment to the foster care system. Sometimes, relatives seek custody of children by filing through the court; other times, children are removed from their parents’ home by the court following petition from Child Protective Services, and placed with relatives who become foster parents.

Many relatives would like to take in their family members’ children when it is needed–but due to financial concerns, may hesitate to do so. Virginia offers some support for relatives who take in children. These supports may include food stamps (“SNAP”) to offset the additional mouths to feed; child-only welfare assistance payments; child care; health care and treatment services for the child (FAMIS or Medicaid); and collection of child support from absentee parents.

Kinship guardians provide one of the best opportunities for children to thrive when their parents are unable to care for them.

Additionally, grandparents and other relatives may become foster parents, especially when children are removed from their home by the court or when the parents voluntarily entrust their children to the state. Relative foster parents receive foster care payments to support the children, and the children can receive health care and treatment services for any special needs.

If a child in foster care cannot be returned home to their parents or adopted, relatives may become the child’s legal guardian. Beginning in July 2018, relative foster parents of children who cannot be returned home or adopted may be eligible for a new type of family support: the Kinship Guardian Assistance Program, or KinGAP. Only some relatives will qualify for KinGAP payments.

Resources

If you are a relative taking care of a family member’s child, contact your local department of social services to learn what services may be available to help you raise your relative child. For more information about kinship care or KinGAP, contact Valerie L’Herrou: valerie@vplc.org.