County helps kin care for children through new monthly stipend

Hamilton County grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives who care for children in JFS custody will receive financial assistance from the county under a new program launching this month.

Hamilton County Job and Family Services created a kinship stipend program and will pay kinship caregivers $350 per month, per child for caring for children in agency custody. The stipends are available to all families, regardless of household income, unless they are already licensed foster parents and receiving payments for the care of the child.

This is the first time JFS has ever provided a kinship stipend and helps fulfill a long-standing goal of the agency.

“We have known for years that better support for kinship caregivers was best practice and best for children and families,” said Moira Weir, director of Hamilton County JFS. “We know from experience and research that children are more likely to thrive in the care of someone connected to them. Kinship caregivers help children maintain connections and a sense of their history. But we also know some families do not have the financial ability to take a child in, particularly grandparents on a fixed income. We have long sought ways to better support kinship caregivers and we now have the funding to make that goal a reality.”

When a child can no longer safely stay in their home, they may be placed in the custody of JFS. At that point, the agency tries to find a relative or someone closely connected to the child to care for the child as it works toward a safe reunification with the child’s family. If a suitable kinship caregiver cannot be found, the child would be placed into a foster home. 

“As we continue to address the increasing number of kids coming into the system, we need to make sure that kinship caregivers, like foster families, have the resources they need to provide temporary homes for these kids,” Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus said. “We know this is the least traumatic way to keep kids safe and the most cost-effective way to allocate county dollars.”

The kinship stipends will make it more feasible for caregivers who are strapped financially, such as a grandparent on a fixed income, to take in children. There are no restrictions on the stipends; only that the money be spent to provide and maintain a home for the child placed in their care. To qualify, the child must be in the custody of JFS. Kinship caregivers who are taking care of children through family and other arrangements will not be eligible.

“Although the stipend is minimal, it is a positive strategy that will help to lead to better outcomes for these vulnerable children,” said Board of County Commissioners Vice President Stephanie Summerow Dumas. “As a licensed social worker with over 40 years of experience, I’ve seen the benefits of keeping children with extended family members when they can no longer stay safely in their homes.”

Commissioner Todd Portune said the stipends will help families struggling with the opioid crisis.

“An often-overlooked consequence to the heroin epidemic is the growing number of relatives taking in abused or neglected children,” he said. “We know this help could mean the difference between a child being placed with a family member or a stranger.”

Current kin providers — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or other relatives and family friends caring for a child in our custody — can start receiving their stipend as soon as they fill out a caregiver agreement and vendor registration form, registering to receive payments from the county. The forms were mailed this week. Caseworkers placing children with kin will provide future kinship caregivers with the forms and information.

The stipends, supported by Children’s Services levy dollars, will cost an estimated $2.5 to $3.5 million a year and be available as long as the child remains in HCJFS custody and in the kinship placement. Once the child’s status changes, the stipends will stop. The stipend program may also be discontinued should funding no longer be available.

It is important to note; other support is available to kinship caregivers. Cash or food assistance, or publicly funded child care, is available to those with incomes that qualify under federal guidelines. The county also has limited local dollars available for child care assistance, as well as vouchers and gas cards for emergencies.

The stipends will not affect a family’s ability to receive assistance from other public assistance programs. They are not counted as income when considering eligibility for federal/state programs such as food assistance or child care.

Kinship caregivers also have the option of becoming licensed foster parents. However, they must receive additional training and meet additional requirements to become licensed foster parents.

by Brian Gregg

Filed Under: News

Tagged: abuse, child abuse, Children's Services, foster care, hamilton county department of job ND FAMILY SERVICES, hamilton county job and fmaily services, kinship care, kinship stipend, moira weir, neglect