Grandfamily is a recently coined term that refers to a family where grandparents, great-grandparents, other relatives, or close family friends are raising a child because the biological parents are unwilling or unable to do so. Legal custody of a child may or may not be involved, and the child may be related by blood, marriage or adoption. This arrangement is also known as "kinship care", "kincare" or "relative care". Kinship placement may reduce the number of home placements children experience, allow children to maintain connections to communities, schools and family members, increase the likelihood of eventual reunification with birth parents, is less costly to taxpayers than formal foster care and keeps many children out of the foster care system.
There are currently 6,706,706 children in the United States who are living in grandfamilies. Of these, 2.4 million children are being raised solely by their grandparents with no parents present. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of children raised by relatives in the U.S. has increased by more than 222,000, and 460,000 grandparents nationally are raising children below the federal poverty level. Relatives care for 23.5% of all children in foster care in the United States.
There are many reasons a parent may be unwilling or unable to care for their child, including death, incarceration, illness, substance abuse and financial instability. Many kinship children were placed by child protective services agencies after removing the child from the biological home, and often local children services will seek out relative placements before placing a child in non-relative foster care. Most kinship children have experienced some form of trauma that resulted in estrangement from their natural families. Kinship children may have been victims of abuse and neglect in the biological home, exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, have special needs or disabilities resulting from in utero substance abuse, be in need of counseling or other support services, or require specialized social and educational services.
Kinship caregivers may be grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or family friends of the children in their care. Caregivers often feel responsible for extended family members and prefer to care personally for relative children who may otherwise end up in non-relative foster care. In many cases, grandparents and other relatives have not planned for the addition of children to the home, and may have problems accessing social and educational services that have changed drastically since they raised their own children. Some caregivers experience feelings of guilt and social isolation resulting from fear of the perception that one failed in raising one's own child. Caregivers may be hesitant to pursue legal custody of children in their care if they want to maintain relationships with the child's biological parent, or if they view the arrangement as temporary.
Grandfamilies face obstacles not encountered by biological parents such as obtaining medical and educational services for the children in their care and securing affordable housing in which they can live with the children. Many of the public assistance benefits available to birth parents and foster families are not available to kinship caregivers even if the child was receiving assistance in the parent's home. Some states offer "subsidized guardianship" payments for kinship families with children placed through children services agencies or foster care agencies, although these payments are substantially less than payments non-relative foster families receive. Financial issues are common for many older grandparents and great-grandparents who are living on fixed incomes, Social Security or disability payments, who did not plan to raise children late in life, or who are raising children with demanding educational or medical needs. The prevalence of these financial issues has led to a high rate of food insecurity, job loss and home forclosure in families who support additional children without adequate financial and service assistance. The obstacles can be even greater in "informal" care arrangements, where the relative caregiver lacks a legal relationship (such as legal custody or guardianship) with the child.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, less than 20% of children raised by grandparents have legal custody arrangements. Some states have established avenues towards legal guardianship for grandparent caregivers who are informally caring for children. Ohio's HB 130, the Grandparent Affidavit and Power of Attorney Bill, establishes two legal mechanisms to assist caregivers to access educational and medical services for children in their residential care as an alternative to intrusive children services intervention or expensive legal processes. This type of temporary guardianship is preferred by families who hope for eventual reunification of birth parents and biological children. Many states have established kinship "navigator" programs to assist caregivers in accessing community assistance and support services for the children in their care. The AARP and Generations United both maintain searchable online databases of kinship programs in the United States.
In many U.S. states, financial and service assistance programs that are available to birth parents and foster families are not available to kinship caregivers based on the family relationship to the child. Some states have more kinship support services in place than others, but the following financial assistance is available to qualified caregivers nationwide.
The federal government has set aside Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding in all U.S. states to support working families with children under a certain income level. While eligibility to receive regular TANF funds is dependent on a family's annual household income and employment status, a "Child-Only" version is available nationally. This Child-Only grant only takes into consideration the income level of the dependent child, not the work or income eligibility of the caregiver. Some sort of temporary or permanent custody is required through juvenile court, Children Services, or another foster care agency to apply for the TANF Child-Only grant. TANF funding can be obtained through county Job and Family Services facilities.
Three tax credit opportunities are available for kinship families raising children in the United States. Earned Income Tax Credit provides a federal tax credit to workers with incomes up to $36,348 (single), or $38,348 (married) who are raising children. Families must meet income requirements that depend on the number of children they are raising. Caregivers do not have to be the child's legal guardian or custodian, and the child doesn't have to be defined as the caregiver's dependent by the IRS. the child must be your biological child, grandchild, stepchild, foster or adoptive child, sibling, or a descendant of one of these. The child must have lived with you for more than half of the filing year and be under the age of 19, a full-time student under the age of 24, or totally disabled.
Child and Dependent Care Credit helps families who pay for child care so that they can work or look for work. The dollar amount of the credit depends on the number of children in the family, the annual household income, and the amount of money paid annually for child care. Caregivers do not have to be the child's legal guardian or custodian, but the child must be defined as the caregiver's dependent by the IRS.
Child Tax Credit offers a tax credit of up to $1000 per child. The maximum income allowable to receive this credit is fairly high, so many families who are over-income for other programs may be eligible. The qualifying child must be younger than 17. Caregivers do not have to be the child's legal guardian or custodian, but the child must be defined as a dependent by the IRS.