Relative Caregiver

Father and child,happy little girl resting on her father's shoulder in the park, vintage filter effect

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 referrals, 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 enroll in the Relative Caregiver Program?

Eligibility includes:

  1. The relative caregiver must be related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption.
  2. The relative caregiver must have primary care and control of the child through informal family arrangements or through legal custody or guardianship.
  3. The birth parent(s) must not reside in the caregiver’s home.
  4. The relative caregiver shall not have a total adjusted household income that exceeds twice the current Federal Poverty Guideline based on the size of the family unit.

In addition to the standard RCP eligibility criteria, additional criteria applies to qualify for a monthly Stipend:

  1. A final custody order of the court
  2. Caregiver is 21 years of age or older
  3. The relative caregiver agrees to seek the establishment and enforcement of child support.

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 first cousin you may qualify for the Department of Human Services benefits such as the 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: The 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 parent’s rights aren’t necessarily terminated.  The court will place directions in the court order regarding visitation and calls by the parent along with the parent’s 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.