To learn more about what kinship care lawyers do, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of what kinship care is first. Kinship care is a type of foster care where a close relative, such as a stepparent or godparent, assumes full-time care of a child.
It differs from standard foster care practices. For instance, it generally places the child with a guardian whom they have some sort of connection to, as opposed to unrelated caregivers or in group homes.
Kinship care provides a unique opportunity for families who are struggling, in that it allows for proper care of a child without fully separating the child from its family.
The concept of kinship foster care is a more recent addition to foster care laws. Over the last few decades, these laws have caused a fairly dramatic shift in child welfare laws.
Essentially, any adult that has a kinship bond with a child may assume kinship care under most state laws. State laws can vary widely, however, when it comes to the rights and responsibilities required of those with kinship care authority.
In general, kinship care involves the same types of rights that are granted to foster care parents under traditional foster care arrangements. For example, kinship foster parents can exercise several major parenting rights. These may include the right to make important legal decisions on behalf of the child, such as:
- Medical; and
- Spiritual decisions.
Adults who assume kinship care of a child may be eligible for federal assistance to raise and care for the minor. Federal laws, such as the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, and Title IV of the Social Security Act, are used to determine eligibility.
Kinship caregivers may also be eligible to receive the following benefits:
- Social security funds;
- Medical assistance for the child; and
- Miscellaneous funds from the program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Two types of kinship care exist, formal and informal. These are explained as follows:
- Formal Kinship Care: This means that a child is placed under the legal custody of kinship parent(s). It typically occurs when a court decides that the child must be separated from its biological parents due to specific issues, including:
- Informal Kinship Care: This is when the parent(s) of a child decide that it is better to let the child live with another family member or relative.
This type of kinship care arrangement is enforceable through a court order that is issued by a family law judge. Additionally, child welfare agencies like, Child Protective Services, are usually more involved in the process.
Sometimes a child welfare agency will only retain legal custody of a child, while the kinship parents get physical custody and provide for the child’s full-time care.
In general, formal kinship care arrangements are highly regulated by both federal and state laws.
In an informal kinship care arrangement, the parents retain legal custody of the child. This means that the parents can still make important decisions on behalf of a child, while the kinship care parents assume physical custody and child-rearing responsibilities.
Although a child welfare agency or social worker may be involved in the transfer process, the agency will not assume legal custody of the child.
Kinship care arrangements can sometimes cause different conflicts and disputes. For instance, a biological parent may resist a court order and attempt to regain custody of a child. This type of situation can present a threat of danger or harm to the child. In such cases, legal intervention may become necessary in order to protect them.
Another dispute that commonly arises during kinship care arrangements, are issues involving child support and financial assistance to help raise the child.
For example, a kinship care parent may need additional funds from the biological parent, but might encounter resistance when trying to secure the extra financial assistance. This situation typically results from informal care arrangements because they usually are not supported by a court order, and are therefore not enforceable.
Disputes over kinship care are normally resolved in a family law court, with the assistance of a family law attorney. These matters may sometimes receive priority from a judge, especially if the health or safety of a child is in question.
As is established by all child custody matters, the final decision must be based on the Child’s Best Interest standard. A child custody attorney can help guide you through this process.
Kinship care can present some extremely complex and emotionally taxing issues. If you have any questions or concerns regarding kinship care matters, you should speak with a child custody lawyer.
A child custody lawyer can discuss the various solutions available for parenting arrangements, and can present you with the best options that meet a child’s needs. If necessary to your case, a lawyer can also represent you during court hearings and at trial.