Licensed kinship care resembles nonrelative foster care. In both, the county DSS has legal custody of the children. Like all states, NC has requirements (e.g., training, background checks, etc.) that non-kin foster parents must meet before they can care for children in foster care. In NC, kinship caregivers must meet these same requirements to be licensed as a foster parent. However, they may be given more time than non-kin to do this because placement of the children is often unexpected.
Compared to those who are unlicensed, licensed kin caregivers have more structured involvement with the child welfare agency and access to more services. This can be helpful in working with the children’s parents, schools, or medical care arrangements. On the other hand, licensed caregivers may have less flexibility than unlicensed caregivers to make independent decisions about the children.
In licensed kinship care, agencies conduct criminal background checks and child abuse registry checks on all adult household members in the home. Agencies must consider the home’s size and condition, the caregiver’s income, others who live in the home, and available transportation. Some licensing requirements may be waived if they do not affect the child’s health or safety. To be licensed, kinship caregivers must also complete 30 hours of training. Once licensed, they receive financial support from the agency in the form of monthly board payments.
Both licensed and unlicensed kin caregivers can expect child welfare agencies to be involved in the following ways when children are in foster care:
Supervision/support. Agencies will support all family members to help ensure the children are safe and doing well. As part of this, the worker makes phone calls and periodic visits to the home. The worker may also provide referrals for services, such as counseling. Typically, kin caregivers will take the children to medical appointments and work with children’s schools. In some situations, workers have more responsibility for these services. The worker and family members, including the kinship caregivers, should work together to ensure children’s needs are met.
Visits. In most situations, the court will encourage parents to visit their children. The child welfare worker will work with the parents and kinship caregivers to make arrangements for the visits. In some cases, kinship caregivers may be responsible for providing transportation for the children or for supervising the visits in their own home. For siblings who are not living together, maintaining contact through visits and other means is also important.
Service planning. With input from the parents and often from the children, relatives, and others, the child welfare agency will develop a service plan (sometimes called a “case plan” or “permanency plan”). The service plan covers two major issues:
- A permanency goal for each child. The permanency goal states where that child will grow up. In most situations, this goal is reunification.
- Actions the parent and agency need to take so children can be allowed to return to their parent or so that another permanency goal can be achieved.
Next Steps. If you are a kinship caregiver in North Carolina and you are interested in exploring becoming licensed, contact your child’s social worker. Or, to learn more about the licensing process, visit https://bit.ly/2ksiUns.
Adapted from CWIG, 2016
For references cited in this issue, click here.