In 2002, New Jersey began the Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG) program for children and caregivers who were involved with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formally known as DYFS. There became a common trend where children who were removed from their biological parents by DCPP were being cared for by grandparents and other relatives, rather than strangers. Because of this common occurrence, the practice of Kinship Legal Guardianship was introduced as a better and more workable alternative to permanent adoption or long-term foster care.
Are you a grandparent considering becoming a kinship legal guardian to your grandchild? Here’s what you need to know.
According to LSNJ (Legal Services of New Jersey), “when you become a kinship legal guardian, you gain custody of the child and all parenting responsibilities. This includes making decisions about the child’s care and well-being; consenting to routine and emergency medical and mental health care; arranging and consenting to educational plans for the child; applying for financial assistance and social services for which the child is eligible; applying for a motor vehicle operator’s license; applying for admission to college; responsibility for activities necessary to ensure the child’s safety, permanency and well-being; and ensuring the maintenance and protection of the child.”
In short, kinship legal guardians fill the role of parent, even if the biological parents’ rights are not terminated, unlike in permanent adoption, where biological parents lose all rights to the child. In fact, the biological parents will still have rights to visit with the child, even if you are the legal guardian.
If someone has a blood or legal relationship with a child who has been living with them for at least one year, they are eligible to become their kinship legal guardian. Only if the court finds that adoption is not realistic or likely will they consider KLG. If they decide to pursue KLG, they will look to the caregiver to see if that person is eligible as a guardian and, if so, they will assess whether they have made a commitment to raising the child and have the ability to do so until the child turns 18 years old.
Once a person is found to have made the commitment to the child, then the court will perform an assessment of what is in the best interests of the child using a number of factors. If they conclude, after their assessment, that KLG is in the best interests of the child, then they can appoint that person as legal guardian.
Kinship legal guardians do get financial assistance from the state to help with medical costs, clothing and the basic needs of the child for whom they are now caring. According to LSNJ, “In most cases, the board rate is established at the time the child is placed in the guardian’s care …the subsidy amount can be reduced by the amount of the children’s SSI payments and stops, if the guardian stops caring for the child, at age 18 or when the child graduates high school, whichever occurs later.”
Taking in a child who is in dire circumstances is a wonderful act of kindness and with that act comes great responsibility. If you are considering becoming a KLG to a child who is need, assess whether you are fully ready to commit to raising this child at least until the age of 18.
To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your family’s needs, please contact us to speak to an attorney experienced in DCPP and KLG matters. Becoming fully informed about your rights and responsibilities can help prepare you for the road ahead.