Grandfamilies: Subsidized Guardianship Programs (page 2)

— Generations United
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

What are the Eligibility Requirements for Subsidized Guardianship?

Subsidized guardianship programs differ from state to state. The programs’ names, eligibility guidelines, subsidy amounts, funding sources, and numbers of children served each vary. However, subsidized guardianships are generally designed for those children who have been in state custody, with a relative or non-relative providing the care, for at least six months and in some states up to two years. The caregiver of the child must first obtain guardianship or legal custody. The court that considers the guardianship or legal custody reviews the existing placement and, in those cases of older children, often seeks the input of the child as well. Reunification with the parents and/or adoption must have been carefully considered and then ruled out as before guardianship is considered as the best permanency option. Many states require that the child have an established attachment to the prospective guardian and that the prospective guardian evidences a “strong commitment” to the child. If the court finds that guardianship is in the “best interest” of the child and grants it, the state no longer has custody. After guardianship is granted, the state issues a monthly subsidy check to the guardian for the care of the child.

Financial assistance is critical to many grandfamilies, since the caregivers are often raising the children unexpectedly and did not have the opportunity to financially plan for them. The amount of the subsidy varies. It is usually less than or equal to the basic state foster care rate, but usually more than the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or “welfare” child-only grant, and continued eligibility for the subsidy is typically re-determined annually. The subsidy payments usually end when the guardianship terminates or when the child turns 18, although several states continue the subsidy until the child reaches age 21 or 22 provided he or she is attending school full-time or has an emotional or physical disability or other special need.

Are There Any Exceptions to These Eligibility Requirements?

There are some exceptions to these general eligibility requirements. For instance, although most states require children to have been in the state foster care system, a few states offer subsidized guardianships for children outside of the system so they do not have to enter it unnecessarily. Some states limit participation in their subsidized guardianship programs to children with “special needs”. The definition varies, but may include those who are difficult to place because of physical or emotional disabilities, race or ethnic background, age, and/or because they are members of a sibling group. A few states require that a child’s income and assets be considered in order to qualify for a subsidized guardianship and/or to determine the payment amount. Both Kentucky and Louisiana allow a child to begin receiving subsidy payments before the guardianship or custody arrangement is finalized.

In some states that fund their subsidized guardianships through Title IV-E Waivers (explained below), children must have been eligible to receive Title IV-E benefits while under supervision of the child welfare system in order to enter into a subsidized guardianship arrangement. Most states offer subsidized guardianships to eligible children living with all types of caregivers who have chosen to care for them permanently, including relatives, family friends, foster parents, and other qualified adults. However, some states limit eligibility to children who are living with kin, which is often defined as “relatives and non-related individuals with a close family-like bond to the child.” More restrictive programs limit eligibility to blood relatives within a specified degree of relationship, including grandparents, great-grandparents, stepparents, siblings, step-siblings, half-siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and great aunts and uncles. A few states limit their enrollment to eligible children being raised by their grandparents. Rhode Island limits enrollment to children being raised by non-relatives.

How Are Subsidized Guardianships Funded?

Subsidized guardianship programs are funded differently in each state but are generally funded by one or more of the following:

  • Federal IV-E Waivers: Though not available to all states,twelve states (DE, IL, IA, MD, MN, MT, NM, NC, OR, TN, VA, WI) have been granted a special exemption from the federal government to operate subsidized guardianship programs using federal foster care funds under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. Initial evaluations of these demonstration programs have been positive. For example, an evaluation of Illinois’ Title IV-E waiver program found that over a five year period, subsidized guardianship provided permanence for more than 6,800 children who had been in foster care. Furthermore, discussing all permanency options actually helped to significantly increase the number of adoptions in Illinois, and the children involved perceived guardianship as providing as much security as adoption.8 Unfortunately on March 31, 2006, the authority of the federal government to grant states waivers to use foster care funding for subsidized guardianship ended.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or “welfare” funds: Several states use the money from their TANF block grants to fund subsidized guardianship programs. It is uncertain how long TANF will continue to be a viable source of funding for these programs, however, due to increasing federal budget constraints and new demands being placed on TANF funding.
  • Other sources of federal funds: A few states use other federal funding sources that have broad purposes such as Title XX of the Social Security Act, the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program, which is designed to fund an array of services to support children, persons with disabilities, and older adults.
  • State and local funds: Some states use state funds or a combination of state and county funds to support all or part of their subsidized guardianship programs. Using state funds allow child welfare agencies the most flexibility in determining who their subsidized guardianship programs will serve, but shrinking state resources have made it even more challenging to maintain appropriate state and local funding levels.9
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