I have just taken children into my home. What immediate issues might I face?

The needs of children can seem overwhelming, especially if you are unexpectedly thrust into the role of being their primary caregiver. First, focus on the basic needs, such as finding a safe place for the child to sleep; providing her with food, clothing, and any medication she might need; and getting the right kind of equipment to aid in care, such as a stroller, car seat, and crib. If the child is older, etc. find out as much information as you can about her school, the starting and ending times, transportation, specific class or project needs.

Make yourself a list of important phone numbers:

  • Emergency numbers (911, poison control, etc.)
  • Family members and friends who can help
  • School, childcare or preschool
  • Babysitters or respite care
  • Before/After school programs
  • Youth activity programs (YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Scouts, mentoring)
  • Doctors
  • Dentist
  • Counselors, social workers, therapists
  • Grandparent support groups and resource centers
  • Community organizations such as community centers and faith-based organizations
  • Area Agency on Aging
  • Children’s services or child welfare office

It might be helpful to have a binder and/or notebook to keep track of dates things happened, notes from phone calls, etc.

When caring for others’ children, what documents do I need?

  • Birth certificates, death certificates (if the child’s parent is deceased), marriage records or divorce decrees for their parents
  • Social Security card (or at least the numbers) for the children
  • Medical and dental records
  • Power of Attorney, Temporary Custody Order, Guardianship, Adoption or other legal papers allowing you to obtain medical care and make education decisions.
  • School papers, such as report cards, evaluations, registrations, etc.
  • Proof of the child’s income and assets (child support payments, trust fund, etc.)
  • Citizenship papers for you and/or for the child(ren)
  • Military papers for you or their parents

What if safety is a concern when I’m taking care of others’ children?

You may want to call your county child protection agency and discuss your concerns. Your information will be kept confidential from the adult(s) you suspect had caused the child(ren) harm. It is up to you to set boundaries to provide stability. Many children want to spend time with their parents but end up feeling let down and confused if their parents are erratic and unreliable. Sometimes this can cause behavior problems or mental health issues for the children.

If I’m caring for someone else’s child, can the child’s biological parents take the child from my home when I have told them “no”?

It depends on the child(ren)’s legal status.

You have full rights to stay “no” only if you have adopted the children. If you have guardianship, the parents may be granted the right to visit the children by court order. However, if there is no court order, you have only a Power of Attorney, or no documentation at all, they could take the child(ren) without your consent. If the county has custody of the children in your care, the biological parent cannot take them without the agreement of the county or a court order.

Do I need legal papers to get medical care for my grandchildren?

If you do not have legal guardianship or Power of Attorney for this child(ren), you may have trouble getting medical or dental care for them. The laws about “medical consent” vary. Ask your doctor or clinic what their rules are. Do not wait for an emergency medical need before finding out these answers.

How can I get health insurance for the child(ren) in my care?

If your grandchild(ren) don’t have health insurance, find out if your employer will allow you to add them to your policy. If not, find out if they qualify for your state’s free or low-cost Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or the federal Medicaid program, which insure children and teens up to age 19 for health care, medicines and hospital visits.

The ND Health Tracks program is part of Medicaid and offers well-baby visits with normal screening, tests, and treatments that children would get if they went to a doctor for regular well-child checkups including dental.

For more information on Medicaid visit nd.gov/dhs/services/medicalserv/health-tracks/

For more information about Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) visit http://www.nd.gov/dhs/services/medicalserv/chip/

You can also visit https://dhsbenefits.dhs.nd.gov/ to apply for CHIPS, Medicaid, TANF, CCAP, and SNAP. 

How can I help the child(ren) I am caring for with behavioral and mental health issues?

Many children being raised by relatives and concerned others have been through a lot of stress, including domestic violence, abuse or neglect. If their parents have mental health issues, they may be more likely to have the same or similar problems as well.

Talk to the child’s pediatrician/medical provider about any mental health issues. Medication is sometimes prescribed for certain mental health disorders. Be sure to find out if the child(ren) qualify for any public benefits to help with medical and/or mental health care or support for disabilities. If a caseworker or social worker is involved with your family, seek their assistance in obtaining appropriate services for the child(ren).

My grandchild(ren) aren’t old enough for school. What are my options for childcare?

In-home care is ideal for infants or for a few hours a day. You hire someone to come to your home to care for the child.

Family daycare is offered in someone else’s home. Usually, this includes fun activities for child(ren), such as storytimes, outdoor play, crafts, naptime and more. In ND family daycare is licensed by the state, meaning the provider meets or exceeds state standards.

Pre-schools or childcare centers usually have more structure and learning activities to help young children get ready for school, learn social skills and develop physically. Some of these programs may have a reduced price for families with low incomes.

Head Start and Early Head Start offer child development to families with low incomes with a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need when they start school. Early Head Start serves children from birth to age 3. Both programs help with education, health, nutrition, and social services for children in the program, and involve caregivers in the child’s learning.

How can I find a childcare program?

Child Care Aware is a program that provides referrals to local childcare providers, as well as information on state licensing requirements and on childcare subsidies to help pay for childcare. Child Care Aware is a program of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) that can help you find a childcare resource and referral agency in your area.

Go to ndchildcare.org/parents

How do I enroll children in school who are not my biological children?

If at all possible, it’s best to keep the child(ren) in the same school they’ve been in. (The fewer transitions they have to deal with, the better.) But if you do have to move them to a new school, you may have trouble getting them enrolled without documentation of your caregiver status. Public school districts have the right to limit enrollment to residents of their districts. If the children’s status in your home is unclear, they may be denied school entry.

I can’t afford to pay for school lunches; where can I apply for assistance?

The National School Lunch Program is a meal program in public and non-profit private schools and residential childcare institutions. It provides healthy low-cost or free lunches each school day to children whose families have lower incomes. There is also a school breakfast program. Speak with the child(ren)’s teacher or school social worker about these programs.

If I am caring for someone else’s child, how can I keep the peace?

When you step in to raise someone else’s child(ren), it’s bound to change many relationships in your family. Marriages often suffer. Others don’t understand why you buy things for the children you are raising and spend more time with them over others, such as other grandchildren. It’s very important that you keep communication open among all family members.

  • Talk, share concerns and explain what is happening and why with your relatives and significant others.
  • Set aside special time to enjoy the other children in your life whom you are not raising.
  • Try to keep up with your normal family routines, rituals, celebrations and holidays.

I’m caring for kids whose parents are addicted to alcohol and drugs; how do we cope?

Abuse of or addiction to alcohol or other drugs (substance abuse) is often called a “family disease” because it affects the whole family. Substance abuse can lead to many other problems, including child abuse and neglect, incarceration (being in jail) and even the death of a parent. There are many emotions and conflicts when a family member is addicted. You can’t control the parent’s behavior, but you can do your best to set limits and give these children security.

You might want to join a support group for people who have family members or friends who are substance abusers, such as Al-Anon Family Groups. These confidential meetings help you learn how to cope and be healthy yourself. Al-Anon also has groups for children whose parents are substance abusers called “Alateen”, and “Alatot” for children.

You might also want to get personal counseling from a therapist who can help you and the child(ren) learn how to cope with substance abuse. The Children of Alcoholics Foundation (COAF) also has resources on their website to help relatives raising children of parents who are addicted.

Visit https://nacoa.org/

If I’m caring for someone else’s child, do I need to consult an attorney?

Responsibility for the care of a child is a serious matter and it is your right to seek legal advice. Whether the parents, the county, or you have custody of the child(ren), legal issues are involved. There is often more than one right answer to the question of what is the best placement for the child.

If the finances of hiring an attorney are a concern, visit sband.org/page/volunteer_lawyer to learn about the Volunteer Lawyers Program, or call 1-800-634-5263.