Kinship care is the term used to describe care provided to a child in the conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) by relatives or by someone who the child has a connection to, such as a close family friend (referred to as “fictive kin”). Living with kinship caregivers can help children maintain connections to their siblings, family members, culture, community, school, and other supports while they are in care. Also, since kinship caregivers already have a relationship with the family, visitation can be more flexible, making spending time together a less formal experience.
DFPS places a high percentage of children in kinship placements, but there is still room for improvement in increasing the number of children who are placed with kin or exit care to relative custody. Children who cannot be reunified with their parents may have an option for legal permanency with kinship caregivers, which could include financial support until the child turns 18, provided by Permanency Care Assistance (PCA) agreements, if the kinship caregivers meet certain qualifications. Courts are required to notify kinship caregivers who appear in court of the option to become licensed caregivers and qualify for PCA.
A few legal practices which attorneys and judges can use to support kinship caregivers and positive permanency involving kinship caregivers are identified below.
- Ensure the Parent Resources Form is completed before the Adversary Hearing.
- Develop a process to identify every relative and fictive kin for a child in care. For example, utilize court staff to identify who appears on each case and then inform the judge.
If it is available in your jurisdiction, refer cases to CASA’s Collaborative Family Engagement program.
- Ensure children are asked at every hearing about relatives and important adults in an age-appropriate manner.
- Explain to parents what concurrent planning is and why it is necessary; then discuss permanency options including PCA.
- Be proactive about the licensing process. For example, confirm that the licensing process was initiated early in the case.
- Assess PCA eligibility as early as possible, including any policy or licensing waivers that may be needed and inquire at hearings about any PCA application documents that are missing.
- Consider an order for DFPS to conduct expedited and concurrent home studies.
Even if a relative or fictive kin caregiver cannot serve as a placement for the child, maintaining these connections can be a source of support for both parents and children throughout the case and after final orders. For older youth and young adults, maintaining connections to kin also provides an opportunity to enhance their social skills and to develop supportive, lasting relationships.
Kinship caregivers may need support and guidance to help them provide for children in their care. The Children’s Bureau developed materials designed to help kinship caregivers navigate the relationship with parents and support their efforts at reunification including factsheets, podcasts, and video testimonials. DFPS created a Kinship Manual in English and Spanish and DFPS also publishes a quarterly kinship newsletter, offers kinship support groups, and provides a kinship Facebook page. For more information on the importance of kinship connections, please see the annual DFPS report on its Relative and Other Designated Caregiver Program.