Parents are not always able to care for their children. They may be abusive or neglectful. They may be incarcerated. They may have abandoned the child, or perhaps died.
In such cases, living with a safe and loving relative may help prevent entry, or re-entry, into the state foster care system. Placement with a relative can enhance a child’s sense of belonging and lessen a child’s trauma.
The Relative Caregiver Program
Children and relative caregivers enrolled in the state program can receive supportive services such as information and referral, access to support groups, respite care, and family advocacy assistance. DCS does not have oversight and the caregiver family does not receive a monthly stipend through the program.
The Relative Caregiver Program can be helpful in cases where:
- Children are abandoned
- Both parents have died
- A parent is incarcerated
- A child is being abused or neglected at home
DCS contracts with private community-based agencies to provide services in each of the 12 regions. Contact Information by region is below.
Are you Eligible to become a Relative Caregiver?
- The relative caregiver must be related to the child by blood, marriage or adoption.
- The potential caregiver must have primary care of the child through informal family arrangements or through legal custody or guardianship.
- The child must be age 18 or under. This extends to age 19 if the child will complete high school or any equivalent vocational/technical training before age 20.
- The relative caregiver and their spouse must take part in an in-home assessment and provide supporting documentation verifying program eligibility. The caregiver must agree to accept support services.
- The caregiver must be able to provide a safe home for the related child and be committed to providing that home as long as is necessary and appropriate until the child reaches legal adulthood. The child must reside in the home with the relative caregiver, and this must be the child's primary residence.
- To receive emergency financial or start-up assistance from RCP, the relative caregiver family must not be in receipt of any type of kinship payment or subsidy (e.g., Foster Care Board Payment, Families First Kinship Care Payment, or Subsidized Guardianship), and the household income cannot exceed twice the current federal poverty guideline.
Options to Consider Before Caring For a Relative Child
Taking a child into your home is a major step. There are several options available to you as a relative caregiver and they include:
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney for the care of a child is a legal agreement between you and the parents, making you the official caregiver and allows you to make legal, medical and educational decisions for the child.
Legal Custody: A judge in juvenile, chancery or circuit court grants you order for legal custody so you can make decisions about a child’s education and medical care. The court order outlines guidelines for parental visitation or contact. These court orders can also require the parents to pay child support.
If you are the child’s sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle or a first cousin you may qualify for the Department of Human Services benefits such as Child Only Grant. You also may qualify for the earned income tax credit, which enables you to pay less in taxes. Depending on the length of time the child is in your care you may also claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes.
Kinship Foster Care: If DCS has legal custody of the child, you can apply to become the foster parent for the child, which involves completing foster parent training, a home study, and extensive background checks. As a kinship foster home the child lives with you, and DCS along with the Child and Family Team makes decisions regarding the child’s medical care and education.
Adoption: You can adopt the relative child and become the legal parent after a court terminates the biological parent’s rights to the child permanently. Legal assistance is necessary to complete the adoption process.
Permanent Guardianship: Juvenile Court provides the order for permanent guardianship. This may or may not require the assistance of an attorney. A permanent guardian has the same rights as a parent, but the parents’ rights aren’t necessarily terminated. The court will place directions in the court order regarding visitation and calls by the parent along with the parents’ responsibilities for child support.
To become a permanent guardian, the child must live with you for six months; the judge will hear what is in the best interest of the child. Permanent guardianship can last until a child is an adult but it can end sooner if the biological parents have made life changes and can demonstrate to the court that reunification is in the child’s best interest.
What Type of Financial Assistance can be Provided?
Some financial assistance to help for a child’s needs is available however the amount and type depend on the types of arrangements a family makes.
In the case of legal custody, the biological parents can be ordered to pay child support. In the event of Power of Attorney and you are a relative to the child you might qualify to receive funds monthly from the Child Only grant through DHS. If you become a foster or adoptive, parent you may qualify for monthly payments through DCS.
Each situation is unique and different; please contact your DCS Family Services Worker to determine the best type of assistance for which you may qualify.
Contact a Provider in your Region
UT Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities, (901) 448-3133
Knox, East, Northeast & Smoky regions
Omni Community Health, (865) 755-3291
Family & Children’s Service, (615) 340-9725
Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging & Disability, (423) 424-4219 or (866) 735-8752
Upper Cumberland region
Upper Cumberland Development District, (931) 476-4123 or (877) 275-8233
Northwest and Southwest regions
Carl Perkins Center, (731) 772-8378 or (800) 273-4747
South Central region
The Center for Family Development, (615) 973-3822
New Vision Inc., (615) 445-8711 or (877) 445-8711