RD135 - School Enrollment Practices for Virginia’s Kinship Caregivers

Executive Summary:
Kinship care complements federal requirements by providing children with stability and permanency. Kinship care offers a viable option for children who are unable to continue to live at home due to a family crisis such as a parent’s illness, incarceration, lack of housing, insufficient income, abuse or neglect. (*1) Children in kinship care arrangements experience less trauma, have positive perceptions of their placements, and have fewer behavioral problems than children in foster care. (*2) Virginia policy strives to preserve families and requires that family members be considered first when out-of home placements are sought. (*3)

During the 2010 study year, the Commission on Youth conducted a study assessing the barriers to foster and kinship care placements in Virginia. (*4) A finding from this study acknowledged the challenges that informal kinship caregivers face when enrolling the child in their care in school if the child’s parents do not reside in the same school division. At the Commission's meeting on April 5, 2011, the Commission adopted a study plan to convene an advisory group of representatives from impacted agencies and stakeholder organizations to study ways to clarify the school enrollment process for informal kinship caregivers.

The Advisory Group reviewed current law, local practices, and two Attorney General Opinions addressing school enrollment. The Advisory Group found that school enrollment practices vary among school divisions. Some public school divisions require a court order giving custody to the kinship caregiver in order for the child to be enrolled in school. Other school divisions require a signed affidavit or Power of Attorney. Others require only that the kinship caregiver provide proof of residency.

In addition to evaluating school enrollment practices, the Commission also reviewed policies and practices of the Department of Social Services related to kinship care. Kinship care arrangements can be either informal or formal. In Virginia, informal arrangements are the more common of the two types. Unlike formal kinship care (which typically refers to relative foster placements), informal kinship care allows parents to make temporary arrangements with a family member when they are unable to care for their child during a serious family hardship and/or absence, but do not want to relinquish their parental rights. This means that there is no child welfare involvement or no formal action by a local department of social services. Instead, a relative cares for the child in the absence of either parent. As a result, informal kinship caregivers typically do not file a petition for custody with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

When a kinship caregiver is awarded legal custody by the court, the caregiver has all of the rights and responsibilities of a parent as outlined in the court order. Since conflicts with school enrollment occurs only when the kinship caregiver does not have legal custody, this study focused solely on informal kinship care arrangements.

The Advisory Group considered several legislative options that would have created a school enrollment process for Virginia’s kinship caregivers; however, the Group was unable to come to a consensus on the options considered. As a result, at the Commission's meeting on December 19, 2011, the Commission adopted the following recommendation:

Request the State Executive Council to review the work of the Commission on Youth and develop a plan to ensure school stability for children in out-of-home care, including children in kinship care arrangements, both formal and informal.

(*1) Virginia Department of Social Services. (n.d.) "Kinship Care The 'Heart' That Keeps Children Connected to Families A Guide to Exploring Kinship Care Options.' [Online]. Available:
http://www.dss.virginia.gov/files/division/dfs/fc/intro_page/kinship_care/related_brochures/B032-01-0201-00-eng.pdf. [April 2012].
(*2) Virginia Children’s Services System Transformation. (2010). Addressing Kinship Care in Virginia-Stock Presentation. [Online]. Available: http://vafamilyconnections.com/documents/Stock%20Presentation.pdf.
[April 2012].
(*3) Va. Code § 63.2-900. (2011).
(*4) Virginia Commission on Youth. (2011). Study of Barriers to Kinship Care Report Document 17.[Online].
https://rga.lis.virginia.gov/Published/2012/RD17 . [March 2012].