What is Kinship Care?

  • A temporary or permanent arrangement in which a relative-or any non-relative adult who has a long-standing relationship or bond with the child and/or family-has taken over the full-time, substitute care of a child whose parents are unable or unwilling to do so.
  • Reasons for this can include death or chronic illness, substance abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, poverty, or other problems.
  • Includes those relationships established through an informal arrangement, a legal custody or guardianship order, a relative foster care placement, or a kinship adoption.

1. I have just taken children into my home. What immediate problems can I expect?

The safety of the children may be your first concern if they were removed from a difficult home environment. Every child is entitled to a safe home. However, if you (or the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS)) do not have legal custody of the children, a parent can take them away at any time. You may want to seek legal or professional advice (from the DCFS) about your situation.

Other major issues you may face:

  • Your expenses will increase. Your budget may not stretch to include the increased costs of feeding, clothing and caring for the children. You may need to check into applying for public assistance, if you are eligible. Child support services are very limited if you do not have legal custody of the child.
  • Medical care for the children will be a concern. They may be eligible for health insurance through the Cuyahoga Job & Family Services but you will need to find out if they can get coverage.  
  • School placement can be a problem because public school districts have the right to limit enrollment to residents of their districts. If the children’s status in your home is unclear, they may be denied school entry.  
  • Behavior and discipline may present challenges because the children may act out feelings of anger, fear and sadness. You may need to find counseling and professional guidance for them from a social worker, clergy person, doctor or other adult caregiver.

What is the role of a DCFS?

If the children in your care were abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents, a part of your county government known as the DCFS may become involved with your family. The DCFS’s job is to protect children from abuse and neglect, and to help their families. Sometimes the agency becomes involved because a family asks for help. Other times, someone else – such as a neighbor or doctor – reports that a child is in danger.

The DCFS, because of its important job of keeping children safe, has powers that other agencies do not have. If an agency worker finds a child in danger, there are steps the agency can take to physically remove the child from the parent or other caregiver. For example, a DCFS might remove a child from the parent’s home and then ask you to care for the child.

That does not mean, of course, that an agency worker can move children from home to home at will. DCFSs must follow laws and rules, and must have their actions approved by a judge. Parents and other caregivers can disagree with the DCFS’s actions. They can tell the judge their side of the story, and have a lawyer present any other information that will help the judge decide. The court system – not the DCFS or the parent – will make the final decisions.

2. Can the child’s biological parent(s) take the child from my home when I have told them "no"?

It depends on the children’s legal status. You have full rights to say "no" only if you have adopted the children. If you have legal custody, the parents may be granted the right to visit the children by court order. However, they could take them without your consent if there is no court order. Legal custody means that you are responsible for taking care of the children until they are adults. If DCFS has custody of the children in your care, the biological parent cannot take them without the agreement of the DCFS or a court order. If you have not adopted the child and neither you nor the DCFS has either legal custody of the child or a temporary court injunction preventing the child’s removal, then the biological parents could take back the child without your consent. If they do so and you fear for their safety, you need to contact the DCFS to intervene.

3. If I become my little brother’s foster parent, can I keep him with me until he is grown?

As a foster parent you would not have legal custody of your brother. The DCFS has custody. By law, the DCFS is charged with seeking a stable, permanent home for each child in care. Legally, your brother could be adopted by another family, he could be moved into another foster home or another relative could gain custody of him. The only adults who have rights to keep children when they have been taken from their parents are those who have adopted the child or taken legal custody of the child.

4. My unmarried son wants to take his child into my home. Can we do this?

There are legal issues around paternity, custody and visitation that must be addressed in this situation. Your son will want to establish his rights to the child through the court system.

5. I have legal custody of my niece. Can I become her foster parent so I can get other financial help that the county gives to foster families?

No. Foster homes and foster parents are used only in situations where the DCFS has temporary or permanent custody of the child. If you have legal custody there can be no foster home placement under current laws. You are entitled to seek child support from both parents. You can also apply for Ohio Works First (Child Only Benefits), if your niece is under the age of 18. You may also be eligible for time-limited payments under the Kinship Permanency Incentive (KPI) program.

6. Should I consult an attorney?

Responsibility for the care of a child is a serious matter and it is your right to seek legal advice. There are legal issues whether the parents, county, or you have custody of the child.

7. There is often more than one right answer to the question of what is the best placement for the child.Do I have to give information about my bank account and finances to receive any government assistance for relatives in my care?

Not necessarily. If you seek cash assistance and Ohio Health Plan coverage for yourself and/or food stamps for your household, you must disclose your income and financial resources. If you are requesting assistance only for the child in your care, you may not be required to give financial information.

8. Does my income count in applying for the county’s child care assistance?

Yes, if you have legal custody or have adopted the children. Eligibility for child care would be based on your income. If the DCFS still has custody you would be eligible for child care assistance with no income limits. It is important to note that, in all cases, the child care subsidy is available only to care givers who are working full time or part time or enrolled in education or training leading to employment. The child care subsidy pays a large part of the child care cost; the family pays some of the cost on a sliding fee scale. The DCFS issues a voucher that can be used for care in a child care center, child care home or by a relative or other adult.  

9. I am having trouble reaching one of the caseworkers involved with my family. What do I do if I can’t get the worker on the phone?

In general, if you know the phone number, call the worker’s supervisor. If not, call the main number for your local DCFS or Cuyahoga Job and Family Services and ask to speak to your caseworker’s supervisor.


This information is courtesy of the "Ohio Guide for Relatives Caring for Children".