Grandfamilies: Subsidized Guardianship Programs

— Generations United
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

What is a subsidized guardianship?

Subsidized guardianship is an increasingly popular permanency option that provides an ongoing financial subsidy to eligible children who exit the child welfare system into the permanent care of a legal guardian, often a grandparent or other relative. These programs are available in 35 states and the District of Columbia, and vary significantly. They recognize that in certain family situations, guardianship or legal custody is the best permanency option when children cannot return home or be adopted.

Who are the Grandfamilies?

“Grandfamilies” are families in which grandparents or other relatives are primarily responsible for caring for children who live with them. Parental substance abuse, military deployment, incarceration, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and death are just some of the reasons causing these grandfamilies to come together.

  • 125,668 children in foster care are being raised by a grandparent or other relative.1
  • At least 20,000 foster children are in foster care without a goal of adoption or reunification with their parents and could exit foster care if subsidized guardianship was available to them.2
  • Almost six million children across the country are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives.3
  • About 4.4 million of these children are in grandparent-headed households, and another 1.5 million live in households headed by other relatives, such as aunts or uncles.4
  • Approximately 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for most of the basic needs of the children. Unfortunately similar Census data does not exist for the other relatives.5 • Although the number of households where other relatives are responsible for children is unknown, we do know that almost half of the children in grandfamilies (2.5 million) have no parents in the home.6

How Does Subsidiezed Guardianship Benefit Children?

Subsidized guardianship arrangements are particularly important for children raised in grandfamilies, or families in which grandparents or other relatives have primary responsibility for caring for children. Guardianships would:

  • honor the wishes of many children who may not want to be adopted and/or break ties with their birth parents;
  • respect cultures in which adoption and termination of parental rights defy important societal norms of extended family and mutual interdependence;
  • limit state oversight and intervention in the lives of children for whom adoption and reunification with the birth parents have been ruled out, and minimize the state’s ongoing role in their lives;
  • give caregivers the necessary legal decision-making authority for children, including the ability to consent to routine activities such as field trips, sleepovers, and school pictures.

A Case for Subsidized Guardianship

Two young adolescents, ages 11 and 13, were removed from their mother due to abuse and neglect. The boys were placed with their grandmother, who had frequently stepped in to help care for them during times when their mother was unavailable due to heavy drug use or otherwise unable to appropriately care for them. Living with their grandmother was an appropriate and logical step for the two boys for many reasons: they were able to stay in their own schools and they could continue to walk to the neighborhood center where they regularly played basketball and received tutoring. The arrangement worked well for both boys, who each had special health and educational needs well-known by their grandmother. Despite their mother’s problems and faults, it was important to both boys that they maintain a relationship with her. Neither wished to be adopted. Their grandmother was committed to providing a safe and stable placement for the boys without severing their parental bonds with their mother. This family did not need all the case management, court intervention or case reviews associated with a foster family. However, as reunification and adoption had been ruled out, the case would remain in the system until the boys became adults. In this case, a subsidized guardianship would allow the grandmother to provide the safe and stable home the boys needed without radically altering their family structure. [Example taken from Fostering Results. Family Ties: Supporting Permanence for Children in Safe and Stable Foster Care With Relatives and Other Caregivers. Fostering Results, Children and Family Research Center, School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2004].

  • enable children and caregivers to maintain bonds with the birth parents who may have physical or mental disabilities that make them unable to care for children;
  • allow able birth parents to regain custody of children, provided the courts and/or child welfare system approve; and • give the courts flexibility to limit or expand the legal guardians’ and parents’ authority as necessary to best serve the changing needs of the children and other family members.7
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