In May, we launched a kinship stipend program and early this month will begin paying kinship families $350 per month, per child if they are caring for children in agency custody.
This is the first time JFS has ever provided a kinship stipend and helps fulfill a long-desired goal of providing additional support to kinship caregivers. We know from experience and research children are more likely to thrive in the care of someone connected to them. Kinship caregivers — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or other relatives and family friends caring for a child in our custody — can also help in keeping the child connected to family, friends, neighborhood and school, and could assist with reunification efforts.
For those who don’t know, when a child is abused or neglected and can no longer safely stay in their home, they may come into the care of JFS. In this situation, we try to find the right “placement” for them. Kinship care is always the first choice. Kinship care refers to an arrangement in which a relative, or non-relative adult who has a long-standing relationship or bond with the child and/or family, takes over the full-time care of the child until they can be safely returned to their home.
Absent a suitable kinship caregiver, foster care is the next option. We would much rather place child with someone they know versus a stranger.
One key to a successful kinship placement is the caregiver’s financial ability to take in the child, or children. For some grandparents on fixed incomes, it might not be possible.
The stipends make sense for us. This is best practice and best for families and children. We will improve outcomes if we increasingly have the option of kinship care over foster care.
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. There are no restrictions; only that the money 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.
Current kinship caregivers can start receiving their stipend as soon as they fill out a caregiver agreement and vendor registration form, registering them to receive payments from the county. The forms were mailed out earlier this month. Caseworkers placing children with kin will provide future kinship caregivers with the necessary forms and information.
The stipends will 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 the funding source change.
The subsidies will cost an estimated $2.5 to $3.5 million a year. JFS should be able to financially sustain the subsidy program through the end of the current Children’s Services levy cycle. It will then be re-evaluated based on available funding and success of the program.
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. We also have 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.
I hope you are as excited as I am about this new initiative. I truly believe better support for kin will result in better outcomes for children and our community.