Are you, or is someone you know, raising a grandchild? People over 50 are increasingly responsible for the care of young children and adolescents. Sometimes young adults are unable or unwilling to be good parents themselves due to military service, divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, or other problems.
Legal authority. Grandparents caring for a child or teen often do so at a time when their own resources – physical and financial – are limited. What information should you have, and where can you turn for legal and financial help? A grandparent must have legal authority to make decisions for that child – about issues such as medical care and schooling. This can be done in several ways.
- If the child’s parents are willing, they can sign over a power of attorney, also called a delegation of parental rights, giving temporary rights to the grandparent to make medical, schooling and other decisions for the child. This arrangement is meant to be temporary, and the parent may revoke the document at any time.
- If the child is to be enrolled in school, however, the school may insist that you do more — provide proof that you are the child’s legal guardian. To do this, you must file papers with the probate court. The process may be simple if the child’s parents agree, but will be more complex otherwise. The probate office at your county courthouse can tell you more.
- If the child has been abused or neglected, the Department of Health and Human Services may be involved. You can seek to become the child’s foster parent, enabling you to make parenting decisions and get financial help. As a “caretaker relative,” you have the right to certain notices and information from the DHHS regarding their plans for the child. To read the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ kinship care policy, go to www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/kinship.shtml
- Some grandparents – typically, where the parents have died or abandoned the child – may adopt the child, through the probate court. If the child has a disability or special needs, a subsidy may be available to the adopting grandparents.
Financial help for grandparents. If you are on a fixed income, and unable to get support from the child’s parents, other help may be available:
- The child may be eligible for Social Security Disablity or Supplemental Security Income payments, because of the parent’s disability or death, or because the child is disabled.
- The child may be also eligible for payments from the State’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and health coverage through MaineCare (the Maine Medicaid program), regardless of your own income. For helpful information on applying for assistance through these programs, go to the website for the University of Maine Center on Aging, Maine Rural Relatives as Parents Outreach Program, to make use of the program’s “tip sheets.” http://www.umaine.edu/mainecenteronaging/mhrapp.htm
- If you need day care, the State’s child care voucher program may cover part of the cost.
Emotional support. There are also support groups for grandparents and other relatives caring for young people. For information, contact Maine Kids Kin: Families & Children Together: www.mainekids-kin.org