Kinship care is a type of foster care wherein a close relative, stepparent, or godparent assumes full-time care of a child.  Basically, any adult with a kinship bond with a child may assume kinship care under most state laws.  Kinship foster care is a recent addition to foster care laws, and is a somewhat dramatic shift in child welfare laws over the last few decades.

State laws may vary widely as to the rights and responsibilities involved in kinship care.  In general, kinship care implies the same foster parent rights as in normal foster care arrangements.  Kinship foster parents obtain several important parenting rights, such as the right to make important legal decisions on behalf of the child.

Adults who assume kinship care of a child may be eligible for federal assistance for raising and caring for the minor.  Federal laws that impact kinship care include the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 and Title IV of the Social Security Act.  Kinship caregivers may be eligible for benefits such as medical assistance for the child, Social Security funds, and funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (FANF).

Are There Different Types of Kinship Care?

Yes- there are two different types of kinship care arrangements: Informal and Formal.

Informal kinship care is when the parents of a child decide that the child will live with another family member or relative.  In this type of arrangement, the parents retain legal custody of the child.  They can still make decisions on behalf of the child, but the kinship foster parents assume physical custody and child-rearing responsibilities.  A child welfare agency or social worker may be involved in the transfer process, but the agency will not assume legal custody of the child.

Formal kinship care occurs when the child is placed under the legal custody of the kinship parent(s).  This usually happens when a court decides that the child must be separated from the biological parents due to issues such as neglect, abuse, abandonment, or certain medical circumstasnces.  The kinship care arrangement will be enforceable by a court order issued by a family law judge.  

In a formal kinship care arrangement, a child welfare agency or Child Protective Services agency may be more involved in the process.  Sometimes, the child welfare agency will retain legal custody of the child, and the kinship parents will provide full-time care.  Formal kinship arrangements are highly regulated by both federal and state laws.

What if I Have a Dispute over Kinship Care?

Kinship care arrangements can sometimes be subject to conflicts and dispute.  For example, a biological parent may resist a court order and attempt to retain custody of the child.  This type of situation can present a threat of danger or harm to the child, and legal intervention may become necessary in order to protect the child.

Another dispute that commonly arises over kinship care is the matter of child support and financial assistance for the child.  For example, a kinship parent may require extra funds from the biological parent, and may encounter difficulties trying to secure the financial assistance.  This is especially common with informal kinship care arrangements, since the arrangement may not be supported by a court order. 

Disputes over kinship care are usually resolved in a family law court through the assistance of a family law attorney.  These matters may sometimes receive priority from the judge, especially if the health or safety of the child is being endangered.  As with all child custody matters, all conclusions must be based on the child’s best interest standard

Do I Need a Lawyer for Kinship Care Issues?

Kinship care can sometimes present some very complex and emotionally sensitive issues.  If you have any issues or questions regarding kinship care, you may wish to speak with a child custody attorney. An attorney can discuss the various options for parenting arrangements that would be best suitable for the child.  A lawyer near you can also represent you during court hearings or trials if necessary.