Florida's statewide Relative Caregiver Program was first implemented in 1998 when state child abuse statutes were rewritten to conform with the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act requirements. The Relative Caregiver Program was included in the rewritten statute and provides for the same oversight by the courts for foster children and children in the Relative Caregiver program. Case plans have to be developed and adhered to for both groups of children, eliminating informal relative placements.
Mission and Goals
The Relative Caregiver Program is meant to serve children who, without the caregivers, would otherwise be in foster care. State level administrators noted that the Relative Caregiver Program is the nexus of the public welfare and child welfare system. Families in the Relative Caregiver Program receive financial payments from the public welfare system and are monitored (at a minimum for six months) by the child welfare system. One of the major goals of the program is permanency for children.
Target Population and Eligibility Criteria
The program's primary clients are the children and caregivers are provided with a higher stipend and directed to spend the monthly payment on the child. Initially, the child welfare agency had concerns about the program's eligibility requirements wanting to make sure that the program was a feasible alternative to foster care, and that the requirements would not be too difficult for the relatives to meet. The TANF agency also had concerns about the program, fearing that the program might provide an incentive for parents to not comply with work requirements or hand their children over to relatives in order to receive a payment. These concerns are why the program is limited to children who were adjudicated dependent and placed with relatives.
The following eligibility rules apply to Florida's Relative Caregiver Program:
- The child must be within the 5th degree of relationship to the relative caregiver;
- The child must be under the age of 18;
- The child must be a U.S. citizen (or qualified alien) and a Florida resident and have been adjudicated dependent (in the State of Florida);
- The child must have a social security number or submit an application for one;
- The child's income will be assessed to see if a need exists, the asset limit is $2,000 per child;
- The relative must have a juvenile court order placing the child in their home under protective supervision (in cases where reunification with birth parents is the goal), or under temporary custody cases (where the parents are unavailable, unable or unwilling to pursue reunification);
- A home study has been completed to approve the relative home (including background criminal checks on all residents 12 years of age or older and others who visit the home frequently);
- The relative must reside in the State of Florida; and
- The relative must cooperate with Child Support Enforcement.
In Florida, all child welfare policy is developed by the state Department of Children and Families. While there is variation across districts, districts are primarily responsible for operations and are rarely involved in program planning. Each of the 15 districts in Florida is implementing the Relative Caregiver Program slightly differently. The department intentionally designed the program to have de-centralization and devolution because it believed that the local programs should have plenty of input into the operations.
The Relative Caregiver Program has two primary components: the Relative Caregiver Payment and case management. Additionally, children are eligible for Medicaid and day care. Currently, the Relative Caregiver payment rate is approximately 76 percent of the 2000 foster care payment though representing only 65 percent of the total foster care payment plus incidentals.
State administrators noted that they continue to emphasize that participation in the Relative Caregiver Program means more than merely receipt of monthly cash assistance. Children and Family Counselors are responsible for case managing all relative caregiver cases. Relative cases can be carried by any worker and the current caseload is approximately 25 families per worker.
Once long-term relative placement is achieved, the case worker can terminate supervision of the family (after a mandatory six month period). The court retains jurisdiction in these cases until the child reaches 18 years of age. Relatives who assume legal guardianship of the children in their care continue to be eligible for the relative caregiver payment.
Other services provided by the Relative Caregiver Program include the child's eligibility for Medicaid and day care subsidy. Workers noted that perhaps the primary reason relatives apply to the Relative Caregiver Program is to obtain Medicaid for the child. Day care subsidies are available for working relatives (until the child turns 12) and, unlike regular TANF cases, are not based on the relative's income.
Major Funding Sources
Florida's Relative Caregiver Program is funded entirely with TANF funds. There is no administrative budget for staffing and there is no special funding at the District level.
Florida Department of Children and Families
Family Safety Program Office
1317 Winewood Blvd.
Tallahassee FL 32399