Support for Permanence through Kinship Care in NC

by Selena Childs •

Children and youth entering foster care in North Carolina are often placed with relatives. This arrangement is intended to be temporary, because the goal is almost always to return the child to their parent’s home. This is called reunification.

If the court determines that reunification is not in the youth’s best interests, the system seeks a permanent home for them. For youth in kinship care, this is sometimes achieved through adoption or legal guardianship by the relatives caring for them.

For children and youth in DSS custody, permanence occurs when they have a lasting, nurturing, legally secure relationship with at least one adult that is characterized by mutual commitment. A “legally secure placement” is one in which the direct caretaker has the legal authority to make parental decisions on behalf of the child.
NC Child Welfare Policy

Adoption
“Adoption is the social, emotional, and legal process in which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full and permanent legal members of another family while maintaining genetic and psychological connections to their birth family” (CWIG, 2019a). The birth parents’ rights are legally terminated (called termination of parental rights, or TPR), after which the child is “free” for adoption. Relatives can adopt their kin; for example, a grandmother may adopt her grandchild, or an uncle may adopt his nephew. Although these role changes can be confusing, adoption is the most legally binding permanency option. Adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a birth parent.

Guardianship
Legal guardianship, another permanency option, does not require TPR. Guardians are responsible for the day-to-day care and supervision of the children placed with them. They make all decisions related to the children’s health, education, discipline, and upbringing. Once a relative becomes the permanent legal guardian, social services no longer has legal custody of the child.

Guardianship is most often used when relatives wish to provide a permanent home for the child and maintain the child’s relationships with extended family without TPR (CWIG, 2019b).

Financial Assistance
Many kin who adopt or become guardians are eligible for financial assistance. The level of monthly support is the same, but as this handout shows, the eligibility criteria differ. In general, eligibility for adoption assistance is broader. For example, in guardianship arrangements, financial assistance is available only for youth age 14 and older, or for siblings placed with youth who are at least 14.

Deciding
Ultimately, youth and kinship caregivers need to work with their social workers and the courts to make the permanency decision that is in the best interest of the youth, and also meets the families’ needs for support and assistance. If a kinship caregiver needs financial assistance to provide a permanent home, the age of the child is an important consideration. Kinship caregivers and youth should talk with their social workers about which option is best for them.

To help with that decision, the NC Division of Social Services is working with the UNC School of Social Work to develop educational materials for relatives, youth, social workers, and others who work with the child welfare system. These materials will be available by June 2020. Kinship caregivers and youth will be able to access these materials by visiting http://www.nccare360.org.

Selena Childs is a Clinical Associate Professor at the UNC School of Social Work.

For references cited in this issue, click here.