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posted on September 06, 2011 10:56

A New Permanency Option for Older Youth beginning September 2011

As you may know, since the mid-1990’s Idaho has had guardianship assistance available for both relatives and non-relatives.  However, under state law, a termination of parental rights is required and the program is funded entirely with state general funds.

The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 gave states the option of using federal funds for a Relative Guardianship Assistance Program (RGAP).  After a lengthy process, our state plan has been approved. 

What is a guardian?  A relationship created by the court, including one made by a tribal court, between a child and a relative or non-relative.  The relationship is intended to be permanent and self-sustaining as evidenced by the transfer to the guardian of the following parental rights with respect to the child: a. protection; b. education; c. care and control of the person; d. custody of the person; and e. decision making.

Who is eligible?  Youth, 14 years and older, who have been living with a relative foster parent(s) and who, without guardianship assistance, would remain in Department custody.  The youth must demonstrate a strong attachment to the prospective legal guardian and the relative must commit to caring for the youth on a permanent basis.

What it will mean for youth in foster care.  The opportunity to exit foster care and have permanency by continuing to live with relatives and maintain important family connections.  It is ideal for the older youth who does not want to be adopted and it does not require a termination of parental rights.  One condition of RGAP is that the youth has been consulted regarding the kinship guardianship arrangement.

What it will mean for the relative guardian: It will mean making a legal and emotional commitment to their relative youth.  The possibility of adoption must be addressed with the relative caretaker.  RGAP is very similar to Adoption Assistance Program in which the ongoing assistance can include a cash payment and Medicaid to support the child until age 18.  The youth and each of their siblings will have an Guardianship Assistance Agreement and a separate cash payment.

What will it mean for the youth’s siblings?   Any siblings of the RGAP eligible youth will be automatically eligible for RGAP when they reside in the same relative home as the eligible sibling. 

What will it mean for the youth’s parents?  Parents will not have custody of their children who are in the relative’s legal guardianship.  It will be the responsibility of the youth and the guardian to determine an appropriate and safe level of contact.  Parents will be expected to pay child support as they are still the legal parents and financially responsible for their child(ren) and their parental rights have not been terminated.

If you have been caring for a relative child as a foster parent and only claiming a TAFI relative grant, it does not matter that you have not received a foster care payment, simply that you have been caring for the youth during their time in foster care.

Very soon workers will be more aware and prepared to discuss RGAP.