Legally Becoming Caregivers and Financial Support

I live in Tennessee, and two weeks ago I became the primary caregiver for my 2-year-old and 2-month-old granddaughters. I work full-time and go to school two nights a week. My daughter and son-in-law are paying child support to the state of Tennessee, yet I do not receive child support, and I can get no financial assistance. I was not prepared for this and have insufficient resources. I can’t get any help from the state and don’t know where to go. Is this the way kinship care really works? —G.L., Tennessee

All states receive federal money for their public assistance programs that is administered by each county’s Department of Social Services. These dollars are part of the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (“TANF”), which is part of the federal law that changed “welfare as we know it,” in 1996. The general rule is that any non-parent who is raising a child can receive a monthly grant, based on the income and resources available for the child. The caregiver must agree to cooperate with local social services department’s efforts to collect child support from the parents.

These grants are commonly called “child-only” grants. However, local departments may use other names, like a non-dependent grant or a non-parent grant. Sometimes local social services agencies require legal custody or guardianship, which is actually wrong.

Anyone seeking such a grant should make out the application for public assistance, keeping in mind that they are applying for the children, not themselves. If they are denied, they should ask for an appeal. If they find other barriers, they can locate legal assistance via local not-for-profit legal service providers. Helping persons obtain benefits is one of the chief goals of legal assistance organizations.

I just found out about a grandchild who was removed from his mother and is now in foster care. I hope to become his caregiver. What can I do?—T.G., New Jersey

Once a child is in the care and control of a child welfare agency, placements with relatives outside the home state are governed by a uniform set of laws called the Interstate Compact on Children. The process is notoriously slow, and some states resist out-of-state placements.

In general, you should contact the local agency and tell them what you hope to do. If the agency is unwilling to cooperate, you’ll probably have to travel to the “sending” state and seek to intervene in the proceedings or start a petition for custody. If the agency is cooperative, it can take more than six months for the paperwork to get done. The goal is for a home study to be done to qualify as a placement option.

GRAND’s legal columnist is Gerard Wallace, Director, Kincare Support Project, and Albany Law School. Send questions to  GrandLegal@grandmagazine.com or write to Grand Legal, 4791 Baywood Point Dr. S. St. Petersburg, FL 33711.

Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue.

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