Grandparents often do not anticipate acting as the sole or primary caregiver for their grandchildren. As a result, they may have inadequate resources to provide adequately when they are called upon to do so. One of the most widely available resources provided to relative caregivers by the federal and state governments are subsidized guardianship programs.
Over one-half of the states have subsidized guardianships in some form. Several factors play into eligibility for these programs, relating to the child, the guardian, the relationship between the two, and the child’s relationship with the state. Additionally, because the subsidy itself is set by the state, the rates vary.
Factors Relating to the Child
Many states restrict guardianship subsidies based on certain characteristics of the child relating to their age, their characteristics, their family structure, their income and assets, or some combination of these factors. The most common restriction is that the child’s income and assets must qualify as low-income. Other common limitations require the child to be under or over a certain age or require the child to have special needs or be part of a sibling group.
Factors Relating to the Guardian
Restrictions relating to guardians vary considerably across the states so much so that no generalities can be drawn. However, the limitations can loosely be grouped into four categories: financial; cooperativeness; age; and relationship. A few states require the guardian’s income and assets to fall below a certain level, require the guardian to apply for all other forms of cash assistance, or mandate that the guardian be ineligible for other forms of cash assistance. The guardian’s cooperation in different types of tasks is sometimes required, such as cooperating with child support efforts, becoming a licensed foster care parent, participating in parent training, and working. While one state permits only certain types of relatives to receive guardianship subsidies, at least one other state bars subsidies for relative caregivers, requiring them instead to apply for other forms of public assistance. Finally, a few states require the caregiver to exceed a certain age, such as 50 or 62, a requirement often met by grandparent caregivers.
The Guardian-Child Relationship
Other than the familial relationships outlined in the previous section, the main restriction relating to the relationship between the child and the guardian is that some form of legal relationship must have been established, such as permanent custodianship, guardianship, or temporary custodianship accompanied by state supervision.
The Child-State Relationship
In the far majority of the states, guardianship subsidies will only be paid if the child has a current or former legal relationship with the state, such as recently having exited the juvenile court dependency system or having previously been in state custody.
Although guardianship subsidy rates vary, nearly all the states with such programs permit an amount up to the foster care rate. Additionally, most states offset the allowed amount with other forms of cash assistance received by either the guardian or the child.