Family is arguably the most important institution on the planet. Family members are the ones responsible for molding one another into productive citizens in society. They nurture and teach their children to become independent and effective so they can in turn nurture future generations and make the world a better place to live. Sometimes, however, biological parents are not the ones who raise their child. In fact, many children who are not reared by their biological parents are brought up by other members of the family or by loved ones who are close to the family. However, many relatives, when faced with permanency options, decide not to adopt. We are going to discuss why relatives choose KLG over adoption, the pros and cons and choosing what’s best for you as a kinship resource parent.
An article written by Rob Geen called The Evolution of Kinship Care Policy and Practice suggests that relatives are the main caregivers for a large amount of children who have been displaced, and kinship resource homes have increased over the years. The definition of “kin” varies depending on the state in which you reside.
According to the article, nationwide, about 25% of foster children live with those that are considered kin. In states like California and Illinois, kin is at around 43% to 47%. The huge jump in number is partly due to what kin means in each state. In New Jersey, kinship providers can range from actual blood relatives to godparents and friends of the family – anyone who has a close relationship with the child. The numbers also vary for many reasons, including the need for kinship caregivers due to the lack of foster parents, the state’s preference and availability of kinship caregivers.
It is always the goal of child welfare agencies to find a permanent and safe home for children in care. When it comes to kinship care in New Jersey, families are faced with two permanency options: adoption or Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG). There are pros and cons to both. Many kinship homes are opting for KLG as opposed to adoption. Let’s look at some the reasons why.
Why Relatives Choose KLG Over Adoption: Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)
One of the reasons kinship families will not adopt is because the biological parent’s parental rights have not been terminated. The petition that is filed by the state is called Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). What exactly is TPR? It means “the legal action taken by a court of competent jurisdiction to sever all the legal and biological ties of a parent to his or her birth or adoptive child.” In other words, it takes away all rights from a child in care’s biological parents, including every legal decision regarding the child. In fact, it is the only way a child in care can become legally free for adoption. If a biological parent’s rights are not terminated, adoption is not an option for a child in care. An instance when TPR may not go into effect is when the parent is working to get rid of the circumstances that led to the removal child. This may be through a rehabilitation program for substance abuse, for example.
For in-depth information regarding TPR in NJ, click here.
While TPR helps to determine whether or not kinship resource parents can pursue adoption, there are other factors to be considered.
Why Relatives Choose KLG Over Adoption: Financial Aspect
Is there a financial difference in KLG and adoption? There can be. If a relative is in care and living with another family member who is a licensed resource parent, there is a board rate that is established based on the relative in care’s specific situation. When KLG is established by the state and/or the licensed resource parent, the board rate that has been determined while the child was in care will not increase. It is beneficial to complete any necessary evaluations for the relative in care before completing that written agreement between the state and the family member who will be the guardian. Once KLG is established, the subsidy will remain until the relative turns 18 or he is no longer enrolled in a secondary education program – whichever comes later. KLG must come to an end when the child turns 21.
Since the process is longer with adoption –it involves more than KLG – there is additional time given to complete evaluations that determine the kind of financial and resources needed. In a case where serious medical conditions (like autism) are later discovered, a parent may want to request a change in the child’s subsidy rate. In order to do so, documentation like doctors’ notes are needed to prove the condition. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P and specifically Adoption Operations) will then review the notes and make a decision. Anyone who has adopted can request to change a subsidy rate if the reason is valid. The case will be reviewed, but it does not guarantee approval.
Why Relatives Choose KLG Over Adoption: Emotional Barriers
Lets say it has been determined a TPR will go into effect for a parent who has had a year to show she is willing and able to be reunified with her child, but she has not proven she is able to resume custody. The relative in care then becomes legally free which means he is available to be adopted. Although he may be in a relative’s home, when the topic of adoption comes into play, many families opt not to take that route. Why?
An article published by the Urban Institute, Finding Permanent Homes for Foster Children: Issues Raised by Kinship Care, discussed some factors why some kinship homes do not pursue adoption. “Some kin feel that adoption punishes the parent too much. Many kin hold out hope that parents will eventually get better. Some kin see taking guardianship as a challenge to parents to get their kids back. Other kin fear that adoption will push already troubled birth parents over the edge. If kin have a good relationship with birth parents, they will do anything not to upset this relationship, including refusing to adopt.”
Many kinship providers are grandparents, and some grandparents have to face the reality they have to be a parent to their children’s child. Also, it can be viewed that the relative in care, while gaining a parent, is losing a grandparent. When the roles change, it can bring a strain to the family dynamic. Grandparents are known to be the ones who have an open home for their grandchildren to come and experience the joys of being loved in the special way only a grandparent can. The shift from being the one who spoils a grandchild periodically to the one who has to discipline and rear a grandchild daily (when they have already accomplished that in their earlier years) can be overwhelming to say the least. To avoid family conflict and possibly an inner conflict, many kinship caregivers, who are mostly grandparents, avoid adoption altogether.
Why Relatives Choose KLG Over Adoption: Weighing Your Options
There are advantages and disadvantages to kinship resource parents choosing KLG over adoption. Each circumstance is different. It is important to choose the option that will best support you as you advocate for your relative in care.
For questions about adoption in NJ, NJ Arch is a great resource.
To get a better understanding of the difference between KLG and adoption, visit FAFS’ website. Click on the “KLG vs. Adoption Chart” to see a direct comparison between the two.
For resources on kinship support nationwide, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
It has been said it takes a village to raise a child. Thankfully kinship resource homes, no matter what option they choose, have decided to be the stability and support their relative in care needs.