Becoming a Licensed Kinship Foster Parent
Once the Department of Social Services (DSS) takes custody of the child, they look for relatives to care for the child while they work with the child’s parents to resolve the safety issues in the home. If you agree to care for the child, you will be given the option of becoming a licensed foster parent for this child. You are not required to become a licensed foster parent to care for the child, but unless you become licensed, you will not receive the monthly foster parent financial assistance or other services to help care for the child.
The licensing process includes a 30-hour training, a home assessment, and criminal background checks for all adults in the home. There is no cost to become licensed, although there may be a cost for fingerprints, fire inspection, and getting your home to comply with the licensing requirements. You can become licensed only to care for your loved one and don’t have to take in other foster children unless you choose to.
- Licensed kinship foster homes are eligible to receive financial assistance provided by DSS to help care for the child. This monthly board payment is significantly larger than Child-only Work First (TANF) payments, which are available to kinship caregivers who are not licensed.
- Receive training in caring for kids exposed to trauma and loss.
- The state will assist with visitations with the child’s parents and help with navigating boundaries.
- Licensed kinship caregivers have a social worker assigned to help them navigate the system and access additional services.
- If the child is not able to go home and the kinship caregiver either adopts or becomes the child’s guardian, there are long-term benefits for caregivers and children that are only available if the caregiver was a licensed kinship caregiver. These benefits can include monthly payments (adoption assistance or KinGap) that continue until the child is 18.
- Many grandparents and other kin assume that the arrangement will be temporary and that the child will soon reunite with their parents; therefore, they don’t want to take the time to become licensed foster parents. However, reunification often takes time, so while the parents and DSS are working on getting the child back home, the kinship caregiver may want to get licensed, so they receive support.
- Thirty hours of training is required to be a licensed foster parent. This training is very beneficial, but some caregivers don’t feel it is necessary because they have plenty of parenting experience. However, the training provides education on the needs of children who have experienced loss and trauma and ways to parent these kids, which could be different from how you have parented before. In addition, it is possible to take training specific to kinship caregivers. For more info on kinship-specific training, visit Caring for Our Own.
- To become a licensed kinship caregiver, it is required that the caregiver’s home meet specific standards. Some kinship caregivers don’t have the money for home improvements needed to meet these standards. (Note that waivers are available for standards that don’t involve safety. And some private agencies and DSS offices will help with the cost of home repairs.)
- All adults in the home 18 years or older must have a background check, including fingerprinting. Some kinship caregivers object to having their fingerprints or those of someone living with them entered into the system.
- Some kinship caregivers don’t want DSS workers to visit their home and believe that not being licensed will mean there are fewer visits. However, once the child is in foster care, they will visit your home regardless of whether you are a licensed kinship caregiver.
- You must be licensed by your local Department of Social Services (DSS) or a licensed private agency. Links with contact information for private agencies in your area are provided at this website, NCDHHS How to Foster and/or Adopt.
- You must complete 30 hours of training. North Carolina uses the TIPS-MAPP training, or some counties will provide equivalent training designed specifically for kinship caregivers. The state contracts with Children’s Home Society to provide Caring for Our Own, a training designed for kinship caregivers. (It involves ten meetings and is available in-person or online.)
- Mutual Home Assessment. Your home must be assessed to determine if it meets the state requirements for foster homes. If the foster home requirements are too difficult for you to meet and are unnecessary for safety (for example, having a certain number of bedrooms), the licensing agency may request a waiver of that rule. Waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis, but social services will work with you whenever possible to help you become licensed. Also, if you are an approved caregiver under a Temporary Parental Safety Agreement, it may be possible to use the home assessment already completed instead of the Mutual Home Assessment.
- All adults 18 and over living in the house must be fingerprinted and have state and federal background checks. You cannot become a licensed kinship caregiver with a criminal history for “a felony or a pending felony indictment of a crime for child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against a child, including child pornography, or for a crime involving violence, including rape, sexual assault, or homicide.” If the criminal history was for physical assault, battery, or a drug-related offense, you cannot adopt or foster if it happened within the past five years. Any other criminal conviction or indictment is considered on a case-by-case basis. Talk with a DSS social worker about any concerns with your criminal history (or those of anyone over 18 living in your home) to see what can be done.
- Tip: offer to provide letters of support from people who can attest that you have resolved the problems that lead to the criminal conviction.
- Generally, there is no cost to becoming a licensed kinship foster parent, but you may have to spend money on fire inspections, health physicals, fingerprints, CPR/first aid classes, and home improvements. Some agencies pay for some of these costs, so ask.
- Certain inspections, such as a fire inspection, are required as part of your mutual home assessment. Usually, there is a charge for these inspections, but you may be able to get the fee waived if you explain why the fire inspection is needed. Also, many private licensing agencies pay this fee for you.
- Some counties have funds to help defray any costs that kin might incur to meet the foster parent requirements (fingerprint fees, medical exams, home repairs, etc.) It is not the norm, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
- How long does it take to become licensed? The timing depends on several factors, including how quickly you complete your paperwork, how soon you can complete the training, and if you have work to do on your home to meet the standards. If scheduling training is in your way, contact the Children’s Home Society to schedule a Caring for Our Own Training. See the tips below for how to complete the process faster.
- Re-licensure of foster parents is required every two years, and licensed kinship caregivers must take 20 hours of continuing education every two years. Your agency will provide you with many ways to complete this continuing education. Other options include:
- Free Online courses at https://fosteringnc.org/
- 12 hours of free training each year at CreatingaFamilyEd.org
- You may be able to receive training credit for listening to Creating a Family Podcast. Ask your social worker.
- Get your side of the paperwork done quickly. Note that you will need health physicals for all people in your home, a fire inspection, fingerprints, and background checks. These all take time, so schedule them as soon as you begin.
- Stay engaged with the social worker that is helping you get licensed. Advocate for yourself. Ask when you can expect to receive their paperwork and call or send an email if you have not received it when it was due. The squeaky (and polite) wheel indeed gets the most attention.
- You can become licensed by either the public DSS agency or a private agency that works with foster care in your county. If you don’t like the service you are getting with the one you begin with, consider changing to a different agency. See NCDHHS for a list of private agencies working in your county. However, if you switch agencies, the process may take longer, so try to resolve any issues with your current agency first.
- If scheduling your training is the roadblock, contact the Children’s Home Society to set up training using the Caring for Our Own curriculum.
- Develop good working relationships with any child welfare worker or other service providers helping you. You should feel like you are partners working for the best interest of this child. Communicate respectfully what you and the child need and promptly respond to requests for more information. Ask for a different caseworker if you need a better working relationship.
DSS custody of the child is temporary. First, they will work with the parents to address the safety issues that caused them to remove the child. Once those issues are addressed, the parents will regain custody, and the child will go home. If the safety issues are not corrected, DSS must look for other options so the child will not remain in foster care. These are called “permanency options,” and they include custody, guardianship, and adoption. DSS will work with the kinship caregiver to decide which option is best for the child and family.
Returning the child to their parents is usually the goal when the child enters foster care and is placed in a kinship caregiver’s home. The child can return home when the parents address the safety concerns that caused the child to be removed. Relatives caring for the child are expected to support and promote reunification and, if possible, share the parenting duties with the child’s parents.
One option if the child cannot be reunified with their parents is for their relative to get legal custody. The parent’s rights are not terminated, and the child’s last name is not changed, but the caregiver can make all the child’s educational, medical, and legal decisions. However, this option doesn’t provide as much security for the caregiver and the child. In addition, it does not provide the financial support and services that may be available with the other permanency options.
One option if the child cannot be reunified with their parents is for their relative to become their guardian. The parent’s rights are not terminated, and the child’s last name is not changed, but the caregiver can make all the child’s educational, medical, and legal decisions. This option provides greater security for the child and caregiver than custody, and financial support and services may be available.
Adoption is the permanency option that provides the most security for the caregiver and the child. The child’s parent’s rights are terminated. The caregiver becomes the child’s legal parent and has all the rights and responsibilities as if the child had been born to them. Usually, the child’s last name will change, and the caregiver will receive financial support and services.
NC Legal Options for Kinship Caregivers
- Temporary Parental Safety Agreement
- Becoming a Licensed Kinship Foster Parent
- Caregiving Without Becoming a Foster Parent