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July/August 2006Vol. 7, No. 6Providing Permanency With Subsidized Guardianship

A significant proportion of children in long-term foster care live with relatives—at least 25 percent—but many are unable to achieve permanency because their kinship caregivers cannot afford to lose the payments that foster care provides. For some of these families, adoption is not an acceptable option because it would alter the family structure by terminating the parents' rights and assigning these rights to a grandparent or other relative. Without an affordable alternative, many of these children remain in long-term foster care.

A recent report from Generations United describes subsidized guardianship, an alternative currently offered by 35 States. Under subsidized guardianship programs, parental rights are not terminated, but permanent legal custody is assigned to a relative. The advantages of guardianship over long-term foster care are significant:

  • Children have a permanent home and are no longer subject to removal by the State.
  • The caregiver no longer has to get permission from the child welfare agency for the child to spend the night with a friend, receive medical treatment, or go on a school field trip; the caregiver is the legal decision maker.
  • The child welfare agency's involvement with the family is generally limited to one annual visit, which reduces administrative costs for the agency.
  • Children grow up knowing their siblings, cousins, and other relatives. Often, they are living in the same neighborhood and attending the same schools.

As noted in the Generations United report, the drawback of subsidized guardianship involves funding. Federal title IV-E funding can be used for foster care payments or adoption assistance, but not for subsidized guardianship.

Eleven States have received time-limited waivers allowing them to use the Federal funds for subsidized guardianship. In these States, and in the States that have been able to find local and State funds to pay for a subsidized guardianship program, the program's success has been significant. For instance, California and Illinois have been able to reduce the number of children in long-term foster care with relatives by subsidizing guardianship. The disadvantage of State financing is that it leaves programs vulnerable to cuts in times of budget shortfalls.

The full report from Generations United, All Children Deserve a Permanent Home: Subsidized Guardianships as a Common Sense Solution for Children in Long-Term Relative Foster Care, was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It is available on the Generations United website: (PDF - 1060 KB)

Related Item

Children's Bureau Express reported on kinship care in a previous article:

"Children Find Permanence in Subsidized Guardianship" (December 2004/January 2005)