In the provision of Child Protective Services, safety and risk issues may necessitate that children be placed out of the home with family-identified kin and relative caregivers. It is Buncombe County DSS’s desire to work with families to prevent children from unnecessarily entering foster care while still keeping a focus on time limited, goal-oriented services emphasizing child safety and family stability. There are times when safety issues are not resolved, but the child has been voluntarily placed by the parent(s) and all parties desire to continue this arrangement for an indefinite period of time. Buncombe County DSS can refer families wishing to consent to custody to an attorney who can assist. When there is a juvenile petition filed, the agency can recommend guardianship to a caretaker to ensure stability and safety for the child. Plans for custody or guardianship must be developed in conjunction with the family and the Child and Family Team. In circumstances where custody or guardianship are considered, there are two existing factors:
1) there is not sufficient grounds for termination of parental rights, but the child is in need of a legally secure placement and
2) there is an identified family or relative willing to provide this care indefinitely or until such time as any safety issues are resolved.
This is a permanency option for children that is more legally secure than custody, but not as secure as adoption. With guardianship, the case is already under jurisdiction of juvenile court and the child is adjudicated as neglected, abused or dependent and the child remains placed with caregivers who are willing to assume guardianship of the child. The parents’ rights are not terminated; however, the guardian shall have the care, custody, and control of the child and may represent the child in legal matters before the court. The guardian may consent to certain actions on the part of the child in place of the parent (example, consent to marriage, enlisting in the armed forces, enroll in school). Guardianship awarded to a caretaker shall continue unless the court finds that the relationship between the guardian and the juvenile is no longer in the juvenile’s best interest, that the guardian is unfit, the guardian has neglected its duties, or the guardian is unwilling or unable to continue to assume the duties. Legal guardians are encouraged to apply for TANF (see section on custody to determine possible payment amounts) and Medicaid or North Carolina Health Choice for Children. Non-relatives may apply for assistance on behalf of a child(ren) if they have legal custody or legal guardianship of the child(ren).
An adult can be granted legal custody of a child. This is the option that is least legally secure, as a parent can file a motion for review and ask the court to return the child to him based on the parent’s change in circumstance. In order to grant custody to a caregiver, both parents must consent. There is no termination of parental rights required. Legal custodians can apply for TANF payments on behalf of children as child(ren) only cases.
• Payment for TANF is less than that for children in adoption or assisted guardianship
one child – $181 monthly
two children – $236 monthly
three children – $272 monthly
four children – $297 monthly
The amount of payment may be reduced by any other income the child has. An Income Maintenance caseworker will assist in applying for any benefits and determining eligibility.
Adoption is typically considered for children in DSS custody when a reunification plan cannot be safely achieved and the child is in need of timely, legal permanence. Since adoption is the most legally secure permanence for children exiting foster care, adoption must be ruled out as not in the child’s best interests before other permanent plans are considered. A child must be legally free for adoption, either through a Termination of Parental Rights or by the parents relinquishing their parental rights.
There are instances in which a child has been in foster care and the juvenile file becomes inactive when guardianship is granted to a relative or caretaker. Should this relative or caretaker later seek to adopt after seeking parent consent to adoption or a private Termination of Parental Rights, this child may be eligible for Adoption Assistance benefits, which could include monthly cash benefits if all criteria is met. Adoption Assistance cash payments are the same as foster care board payments for licensed families and are graduated according to the age of the child:
Age birth to 5- $475 monthly
Age 6-12- $581 monthly
Age 13-17- $634 monthly
Additionally, the child may be eligible for reimbursement of Non-Recurring expenses related to adoption up to $2000 per child and potentially for reimbursement of Vendor Payments for approved and qualified expenses of up to $2400 per year. There are instances when the Department has been involved and guardianship or custody has been given to a relative or caretaker without the child entering foster care. If the relative/caretaker later adopts the child, they may be eligible for reimbursement of the non-recurring expenses of adoption up
to $2000 per child.