Topics on this page
- What is kinship care?
- What is formal kinship care?
- What is informal kinship care?
- Are benefits available for kinship caregivers?
- What documents might I need?
What is kinship care?
Kinship care refers to an arrangement in which a child who is unable to live with their parents is placed with close relatives or extended family members. The relative caregivers provide 24-hour care, 7 days per week, to the child.
Children may not be able to live with their patent for various reasons, such as parental incapacity, abuse, neglect, or other family challenges. Kinship care offers several potential benefits for the child, including:
- Continuity of family and cultural ties: Placing a child with relatives helps maintain their connection to their family and cultural heritage, reducing the trauma of separation from their immediate family.
- Familiarity and stability: Children are more likely to feel comfortable and secure when living with relatives they already know, which can positively impact their emotional well-being.
- Reduced trauma: Moving a child to live with relatives can be less traumatic than being placed with unfamiliar foster parents, as the child is already familiar with their relatives.
- Support network: Kinship caregivers often have an existing support network and understanding of the child's background and needs, which can be beneficial in providing appropriate care.
- Legal and financial benefits: Kinship caregivers may have an easier time navigating the legal system and accessing financial support than non-relative foster parents.
Kinship care arrangements can be either formal or informal. The difference between formal and informal kinship care arrangements lies in the level of legal recognition and involvement of child welfare agencies or authorities.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-534.
What is formal kinship care?
In a formal kinship care arrangement, the child is under the state's care, custody, or guardianship. A formal legal process facilitates the child's placement in a formal kinship arrangement, and the caregiver obtains legal custody of the child. Legally, the child is considered a foster child, and the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) facilitates placement. Formal kinship care is a specific type of foster care placement in which the child is placed with a relative or close family member rather than unrelated foster parents.
Formal kinship caregivers are related to the child by blood or marriage (within five degrees of family connection/consanguinity). Kinship caregivers may also be “Fictive Kin,” which includes non-relative adults with whom the family or child identifies as having a long-standing, closely bonded relationship, such as a family friend, neighbor, coach, and more. Caregivers in formal kinship care arrangements are subject to the same Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) standards as foster parents.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-534
Under Maryland law, kinship care refers to formal kinship care arrangements. Specifically, kinship care means “the continuous, 24-hour care and supportive services provided for a minor child placed by DHS in the home of a kinship parent or a kinship caregiver.”
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-501(e)
A “kinship parent” is an individual who is related to the child by blood or marriage within five degrees of consanguinity or affinity. A kinship parent may not be younger than age 18.
A “kinship caregiver” is an individual who is related, by blood or marriage, beyond five degrees of consanguinity or affinity but who has a strong familial bond and has maintained regular contact with the child. A kinship caregiver may not be younger than age 21.
When selecting a placement that is in the best interests of the child, the first priority is to attempt to place the child with a kinship parent. If no kinship parent is located at the time of the initial placement, DHS can place the child with a kinship caregiver as an alternative to foster care. If a kinship caregiver is located after a child has been placed in a foster care setting, DHS may, if it is in the best interest of the child, place the child with a kinship caregiver.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-534
What is informal kinship care?
In an informal kinship care arrangement, the child is not under the authority of DHS. Placement of the child in an informal kinship care arrangement does not involve a formal legal process. Informal kinship care arrangements are made privately between family members. Legal custody is not granted or required.
Informal kinship care arrangements are not supervised by Maryland’s Local Departments of Social Services but can be supported voluntarily by the Local Department’s Kinship Navigator Program. Although the arrangements for the informal care of a child are usually made privately between family members, an agreement may be started by the Local Department of Social Services due to a Child Protective Services (CPS) case. In most instances of informal kinship care, the children do not enter the foster care system.
School Enrollment- Informal Kinship Care
Maryland regulations allow a child in an informal kinship care relationship to attend a public school in the county, or school attendance are where the child lives with the kinship caregiver. The relative caregiver must submit an affidavit verifying the informal kinship care relationship at the time of the enrollment request. If the student remains in informal kinship care, the relative must annually file a new affidavit with the school system at least two weeks before the start of the school year.
Read the Regulations: Code of Maryland Regulations 13A.08.05*
Are benefits available for kinship caregivers?
If you are a Maryland resident and you provide care for a relative’s child for 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, there are benefits that you may be eligible to receive. As a relative caregiver, you can apply on behalf of the child for the following benefits:
- Temporary Cash Assistance
- Provides cash assistance to eligible children and their relative caregivers. Legal custody is not required.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Provides food assistance based on the income of the entire household.
- Child Care Scholarship Program (CCS)
- Provides financial assistance for childcare costs. Caregivers may qualify for a child care subsidy if they meet income and program requirements.
- Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP)
- MCHP provides full health benefits for higher-income uninsured children (up to age 19 years).
- Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP)
- Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP)
Your local Department of Social Services can provide more information about benefits.
What documents might I need?
Consent of Health Care Affidavit:
- Provides relative caregivers with documentation to make medical decisions for the child.
- Contact your local health department or local social services department for this form.
Medical Information Sheet:
- Useful tool to gather and organize information about the child.
- Access information sheet online.
- Assists relative caregivers with enrolling child in school.
- Allows relative caregivers to advocate for child in school matters.
- Access affidavit online.