On Their Own Terms: Supporting Kinship Care Outside of TANF and Foster Care. Opinions on Permanency Options

09/01/2001

"[Adoption] makes you relinquish your own [child's] parental rights. It doesn't benefit me to alienate my daughter and do that."

During each site visit, researchers attempted to document caregivers' opinions on different permanency options. While some of the caregivers were not sure of the permanency option they would choose if reunification efforts failed, we observed some common attitudes about permanency:

  • Willingness to raise children until adulthood. Although decisions about a long-term commitment to the children often depend on the well-being of the birth parents and their own financial situation, overwhelmingly caregivers say they are willing to raise the children until they are adults if necessary. Despite popular belief to the contrary, many kin say that they are more than willing to adopt. Many of them are afraid of losing custody to the birth parents, and some noted that courts focus too much on parental rights. At A Second Chance in Pittsburgh, one caregiver stated, "Why not adopt? Then I can do what I want with them. They are really mine anyway." This sense of attachment and commitment to the children seems to be common among most caregivers.

    On the other hand, relative caregivers often choose not to adopt for many reasons. They may not want to permanently terminate the rights of the birth parents, they may hope that the child will be reunified with the birth parents at some later point, or they simply may not be comfortable with the idea of adoption.

  • Hopes for parental reunification. Most of the caregivers in these programs have, at some point, hoped for reunification between the relative child in their care and the child's birth parents. However, many of the caregivers had to make a more long-term commitment to the child. For example, program workers in Denver commented that many of the caregivers agree to take the child while thinking that the situation will only last a few months, but most of them have to become more comfortable with the idea of a longer commitment. It is particularly difficult for grandparent caregivers to give up on the idea of reunification. Many grandparent caregivers are hoping that their child will be able to parent again, despite the birth parent's past history of abuse or neglect of the child.
  • Encountering barriers to adoption and guardianship. Many kinship caregivers who were eager to adopt or take guardianship of the children in their care reported significant barriers to completing the process. One of these barriers is financial. Caregivers noted that the legal fees for completing an adoption are at least $5,000, under the best case scenario in which the adoption is not contested. Moreover, these fees represent the cost per child and many caregivers are seeking to adopt multiple children. A second barrier identified is a simple lack of understanding about adoption or guardianship process. Many caregivers reported they experienced great difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the legal process. Finally, caregivers who had begun or completed the process noted numerous delays in finalizing their adoptions or guardianships, delays that entail both an emotional and financial cost.