Grandparents raising grandchildren—What they should know
In the U.S. there are more than six million children who live with grandparents or other relatives. In Illinois alone, more than 100,000 grandparents are caring for their grandchildren. These "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren" are primarily female, under 60 years old, and are caring for their grandchildren on a long-term basis. The grandparents often assume caregiving responsibilities because of the death of the parents, the abuse or neglect of the children, or the substance abuse, illness or incarceration of the parents. The number of programs dedicated to servicing these grandparents is growing and is expected to continue. However, many grandparents often don't know exactly where to start. The following are common questions, brief answers, and a list of available resources for grandparents who find themselves-again-raising children.
1. Am I eligible for financial assistance? Where can I get it? There are several types of financial assistance available to grandparents raising grandchildren. These include:
• Temporary Assistance to Needy Families ("TANF"). TANF is comprised of two types of assistance:
• "Child Only Grants" provide, regardless of the grandparents' income, a small grant of approximately $100 per month depending on the county of residence. Perhaps more importantly, receipt of this grant automatically qualifies the child to receive medical assistance. It also often serves as proof that the child actually resides with the grandparent. If the grandparent is working, the child may also qualify for day care assistance. The grandparent need not provide income information or comply with welfare program work requirements. There is no time limit on the receipt of a child-only grant. Eligible children can continue to receive monthly assistance until they reach the age of 18. It is important to note that a grandparent is not eligible to receive the child-only grant if he or she is receiving foster care benefits (this usually occurs when there was DCFS involvement at some point). In order for a grandparent to receive the child-only grant, one must show that the child is 1) living with the grandparent and 2) proof of the relationship. If the grandparent receives child support (which is quite unlikely) this grant may need to be repaid.
• "Regular TANF Grants" are available if grandparents have a limited income. This amount is greater than the child-only grant. Grandparents are then subject to work participation requirements. The benefits are limited to a period of five years.
CONTACT: Illinois Department of Human Services
800- 843-6154 (press option #1)
• Social Security. A grandchild may be eligible for benefits on the work record of a parent. If the child is not eligible for benefits based on the work record of the parent, and if one of the parents is deceased or disabled, the grandchild may be considered a "child" of a retired grandparent for the purposes of benefits. The grandparent would then receive dependent benefits for the grandchild in addition to the grandparent's regular benefits.
CONTACT: Social Security Office
• Food stamps/WIC. A low-income guardian of a child under five years of age may be eligible for WIC (Women, Infant and Children) assistance. The Illinois LINK card (sometimes known as food stamps) may also be available if the grandparents are low-income.
CONTACT: Illinois Department of Human Services
800-843-6154 (press option #5)
• Child Support. In order to collect child support for a grandchild, there generally must be some type of order entered as to custody. If so, a grandparent may contact the child support enforcement agency for his or her respective county.
CONTACT: Illinois Child Support Enforcement
2. Can I enroll my grandchild in the school district where I live? A common problem for grandparents is attempting to enroll their grandchild in school. Although many grandparents are told that they must provide various types of court documentation regarding "custody," generally the law does not require such. The Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/10-20.12b, provides that "the residence of a person who has legal custody of a pupil is deemed to be the residence of the pupil." However, the term legal custody is defined as one of the following:
i. Custody exercised by a natural or adoptive parent with whom the pupil resides.
ii. Custody granted by order of a court of competent jurisdiction to a person with whom the pupil resides for reasons other than to have access to the educational programs of the district.
iii. Custody exercised under a statutory short-term guardianship, provided that within 60 days of the pupil's enrollment a court order is entered that establishes a permanent guardianship and grants custody to a person with whom the pupil resides for reasons other than to have access to the educational programs of the district.
iv. Custody exercised by an adult caretaker relative who is receiving aid under the Illinois Public Aid Code for the pupil who resides with that adult caretaker relative for purposes other than to have access to the educational programs of the district.
v. Custody exercised by an adult who demonstrates that, in fact, he or she has assumed and exercises legal responsibility for the pupil and provides the pupil with a regular fixed night-time abode for purposes other than to have access to the educational programs of the district.
Clearly, a court order is not required. Note that subsection (iv) shows an additional benefit of applying for the TANF "child only" grant. The receipt of the child only grant alone should allow a grandparent to enroll the child at the grandparent's local school district.
3. Can I obtain medical insurance for my grandchild? There are several sources for medical insurance for a grandchild. First, a grandparent's employer-provided health insurance plan may provide benefits to dependents. The plan documents will define "dependent" which may include a grandchild. Second, if a grandparent is receiving the TANF "child only" grant, the child will qualify for Medicaid. Remember, this is available regardless of the grandparent's income level or assets, and does not require a court order regarding custody. Third, if the grandparents are low-income, the Illinois KidCare program offers health care coverage to children. KidCare may also provide assistance in paying premiums of private health insurance plans.
CONTACTS: Illinois Department of Human Services
800-843-6154 (press option 1)
P.O. Box 19122
Springfield, IL 62794-9122
4. How do I get custody/guardianship of my grandchild? Grandparents often question the types of custody and guardianship, as well as the necessity of obtaining such an order. A grandparent has numerous options under the following statutes:
• Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act ("IMDMA"). (750 ILCS 5/601(b)). With the IMDMA, the grandchild must not be "in the physical custody" of the parents in order for the grandparents to have the right to petition for custody. There must also be a "voluntary relinquishment" by both parents. This order would award "custody" which gives authority to grandparents for most decision-making. Child support may still be obtained since the natural parents remain financially responsible for the child. Parents still have right to visitation and possible future modification of order.
• Juvenile Court Act. (705 ILCS 404/1-1 et. seq., 705 ILCS 405/2-27). Placement through the Juvenile Court Act usually happens as a result of abuse and neglect proceedings being brought against one or both parents. In the past, DCFS had limited placements to those over 65 but rescinded the rule in July, 2003. If a grandparent receives placement in this manner, the grandparent can also receive foster care payments and possibly child support from the parent(s). The parents also have the option of requesting a modification of such orders. Generally, the Department of Children and Family Services remains the legal guardian of the child, and must approve major decisions by the grandparents. However, there is now a "Private Subsidized Guardianship," a new permanency option where the grandparent actually becomes the legal guardian. This is only considered in long-term care situations where reunification of the parents and child has been ruled-out as a goal.
• Probate Act. (755 ILCS 5/1-1 et.seq.). The Probate Act provides for "guardianship" rather than "custody" of the child, and will suffice as authority for most decision-making. Like the IMDMA, the parents must voluntarily relinquish the child and the child must currently not be in the custody of his or her natural parents. The parents remain financially liable for the child, and they may move to terminate the guardianship. A grandparent may still receive child support with this type of order.
A parent may also designate a grandparent as a "standby guardian." See 755 ILCS 5/1-2.23, 755 ILCS 5/11-5.3, and 755 ILCS 5/11-13.1. This is a document which must be filed and approved by the court. However, it only becomes effective upon the parents' incapacity or death. Suggested language is found in the statute.
In addition, a parent may execute a "short-term guardianship" document which provides decision-making authority to a grandparent for up to 60 days. See 755 ILCS 5/1-2.24. 755 ILCS 5/11-5.4. This need not be filed with the court, and becomes effective on the date it is signed. Again, suggested language is found in the statute.
• Adoption Act. (750 ILCS 50/1 et.seq.). Adoption involves a complete termination of parental rights. The parents must consent or be demonstrated unfit in order for a grandparent to adopt.
5. Is there a grandparent support group in my area? Can I get more information on raising my grandchild? Yes! There are many local support groups throughout the state of Illinois. In addition, the following groups are fantastic resources for grandparents who find themselves raising their grandchildren:
CONTACTS: Illinois Department on Aging
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
To find a local support group, go to <http://www.illinois.gov/aging/CommunityServices/caregiver/Pages/grg.aspx>.
Illinois Family Caregiver Support Program. This program is administered though local "Area Agencies on Aging," which have various locations throughout Illinois. The Illinois Family Caregiver Support Program is designed to provide referrals and information for caregivers 60 and older. However, they can also refer younger grandparents to appropriate agencies.
To find a local office, go to <http://www.illinois.gov/aging/CommunityServices/caregiver/Pages/default.aspx>. and click on the appropriate county.
AARP Grandparent Information Center
601 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049
U.S. Government Administration on Aging