Many grandparent and other relative caregivers face significant economic difficulties. About 19% of grandparents responsible for grandchildren live in poverty. Many younger caregivers must quit their jobs, cut back on work hours, or make other job-related sacrifices that can negatively affect their future economic well- being.
Caregivers who are either retired or are not working also suffer financially for taking in their relatives’ children, often depleting life savings, selling belongings, and spending their retirement income to care for the child. Many older caregivers already live on limited incomes so caring for a child can severely strain their finances.
There are only a few potential sources of financial assistance for relatives raising children. The majority of programs are funded through a combination of federal and state funds:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Foster Care Payments
Where available Kinship Navigator Programs
may also provide caregivers with one- time financial help or connect them with other assistance and supports.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
TANF provides time limited assistance to families with very low incomes. It Is the only option available to grandfamilies who are raising children outside of the formal foster care system. Each state determines the income eligibility for its TANF program and the amount of assistance to be provided to families. There are two basic types of grants a relative caregiver can receive under TANF.
Child Only Grant
- Are typically quite small and may not sufficiently meet the needs of the child - in 2001, the average grant gave $7 per day for one child, with only slight increases for additional children
- Typically considers only the needs and income of the child when determining eligibility
- Provides only for the child’s needs
- Are applicable to almost all l relative caregivers. Because few children have income of their own, almost all grandfamilies can receive a child-only grant on behalf of the children in their care
Foster Care Payments
- Are usually larger than child-only grants
- Considers the caregiver’s and the child’s income when determining eligibility (States can exempt relatives caregivers from the family grant requirements and many do, but some do not)
- Imposes 60-month time limit and work requirements
- Intended to provide funding for the needs of the child and the caregiver
- May not be appropriate for retired relative caregivers or for caregivers who will need assistance for more than 60 months
Foster Care Payments provide monthly payments to relative caregivers on behalf of children in their care if the children are involved in the child welfare system.The vast majority of children in grandfamilies are ineligible because grandparents or other relatives stepped in to care for the child before the child welfare system became involved.
- Relatives must become licensed foster parents
- Payments are typically higher than the TANF child-only payment a grandparent or other relative could receive on behalf of the child in their care (and usually higher than a “family grant”)
- Payments multiply (e.g. double, triple) as the number of children cared for increases
Adoption Assistance provides payments to relative caregivers who choose to adopt qualifying children in their care. Children must have special needs to qualify. “Special needs” are defined by the state, but generally include characteristics or conditions that make it difficult to place the child with adoptive parents without a subsidy.
- Available in all states to children with “Special needs” who are adopted from the child welfare system
- Amount of payment varies by state - specific eligibility, benefit, funding, and other characteristics for each state’s adoption subsidy program is available at the North American Council on Adoptable Children
(Kinship Guardianship Assistance)
Kinship Guardianship Assistance provides relatives caregivers with legal authority and financial assistance (usually a monthly subsidy check) to care for children when adoption is not appropriate.
Louisiana’s Kinship Care Subsidy Program
- Availability, eligibility, and payment amount for programs vary by state
- Because of new incentives in the 2008 Fostering Connections Act more states are creating programs for children in foster care (who have lived with grandparents or other relatives for at least 6 months) to leave foster care into permanent homes with those relatives. For eligibility, reunification with parents and adoption must be ruled out as permanency options
- A few states (like Lousiana below) have programs for children who are not part of the child welfare system
One of the few “subsidized guardianship” programs for children outside the child welfare system, Louisiana established the the “Kinship Care Subsidy Program,” in 1999. In this program, grandparents, step-grandparents, or other adult relatives are eligible if they satisfy the following requirements:
- Possess or obtain, within one year, legal custody or guardianship of the child who is living in the relative’s home
- Have an income of less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level
- Apply for benefits through the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program
- Have neither of the parents living in the household
- Agree to pursue the enforcement of child support obligations against the parents
Like many state programs, Louisiana finances this assistance through its state grant of federal TANF funds. Louisiana’s program requires an income test of its caregivers and only the very poor qualify. The vast majority of subsidized guardianship programs do not have income requirements for the caregiver.
Kinship Navigator Programs
Kinship navigator programs provide information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and services that they or the children need. Navigators help relatives’ access services and programs, like TANF. Kinship navigator programs also sensitize agencies and providers to the needs of relative-headed families. New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington have long-standing kinship navigator programs. Now thanks to Family Connection Grants, awarded through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, thirteen more kinship navigator programs exist:
- Aspiranet, Inc., South San Francisco, California (serving Los Angeles County)
- Edgewood Center for Children and Families, San Francisco, California
- Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Public Children Services Association of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio
- The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, Trenton, New Jersey
- YMCA of San Diego County, San Diego, California
These are grants that include other elements in addition to kinship navigator programs:
- Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Yakima, Richland, Washington
- Lilliput Children’s Services, Sacramento, California
- Department of Health & Human Services, Augusta, Maine
- Maryland Department of Human Resources, Baltimore, Maryland
- Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Rhode Island Foster Parents Association, East Providence, Rhode Island
- South Carolina Department of Social Services, Columbia, South Carolina
If you need additional information and support, visit the Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center
or connect with support groups
in your area.
NEW! TANF Policy Brief
and TANF Policy Brief Summary
Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center
(features a confidential survey to find out if there is help available to pay for health, food, and energy bills)
Grand Resources: A Grandparent’s and Other Relative’s Guide to Raising Children with Disabilities
Grandfamilies TANF Fact Sheet
Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: The Second Intergenerational Action Agenda
The Earned Income Tax Credit: An Important Tool for Lifting Families Out of Poverty
Federal Tax Benefits for Foster, Adoptive Parents and Kinship Caregivers
The National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections
North American Council on Adoptable Children