§ 22.1. Legislative findings and intent--Foster care by grandparents or other relative
A. The Oklahoma Legislature recognizes that:
1. Children who have been abused, who are dependent or neglected, or whose parents, for whatever reason, may be unable or unwilling to provide care for their children, are best served when they can be cared for by grandparents or other suitable relatives instead of placing those children in foster care with the State of Oklahoma; and
2. While grandparents or other relatives are often willing to provide for the care of children who can no longer remain with their parents, there may exist financial obstacles to the provision of such care, or there may be a need for other services to enable the children to remain with their grandparents or other relatives in order to prevent the entry of those children into the foster care system.
B. It is the intent of the Oklahoma Legislature in enacting this section to:
1. Recognize family relationships in which a grandparent or other relative within the third degree of relationship to the child is the head of a household that includes a child otherwise at risk of foster care placement by the Department of Human Services;
2. Enhance family preservation and stability by recognizing that most children in placements with grandparents and other relatives within the third degree of relationship to the child do not need intensive supervision of the placement by the courts or by the Department;
3. Provide additional placement options and incentives that will achieve permanency and stability for many children who are otherwise at risk of foster care placement by the Department because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, but who may successfully be able to reside in the care of relatives within the third degree of relationship to the child; and
4. Reserve the limited casework and supervisory resources of the Department and the courts expended to care for children in state custody for those cases in which children do not have the option for safe, stable care within their immediate family.
C. The Department of Human Services shall establish and operate a relative support program pursuant to eligibility guidelines established in this section and by rules of the Department promulgated thereto which will divert children from the foster care program operated by the Department. The relative support program shall provide assistance to relatives within the third degree of relationship to a child who are caring for the child on a full-time basis, regardless of whether there is a court order granting custody of the child to the relative.
D. Grandparents or other such relatives who qualify for and participate in the relative support program are not required to be certified as foster parents or to meet the foster care requirements but shall be capable of providing a physically safe environment and a stable, supportive home for the children under their care.
E. Upon request by grandparents or other relatives who are caring for a child on a full-time basis, the Department shall complete a needs assessment on such grandparents or other relatives to determine the appropriate services and support needed by the child and the grandparents or other such relatives.
F. Within available funding specified by this section, the relative support program may provide grandparents or other suitable relatives with:
1. Case management services;
2. Monthly stipends or other financial assistance, family support and preservation services;
3. Flexible funds to enable the grandparents or other relatives to meet unusual or crisis expenditures, including but not limited to, making housing deposits, utility deposits, or to purchase beds, clothing and food;
4. Subsidized child care and after school care;
5. Respite care;
8. Support groups;
9. Assistance in accessing parental child support payments;
10. Aid in accessing food stamps, Social Security and other public benefits;
11. Information about legal options for relative caregivers;
12. Assistance for establishing a relative guardianship or relative custodianship for the child;
13. Available volunteer attorney services;
14. Mediation/family group conferencing; and
15. Community-based services and state or federal programs available to the child and relatives to support the child's safety, growth and health development.
G. Children living with grandparents or other relatives within the third degree of relationship to the child who are receiving assistance pursuant to this section shall be eligible for Medicaid coverage.
H. Subject to availability of funding, and as may be permitted by federal law or regulations governing the Department of Human Services' block grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Department is specifically authorized to provide funding assistance from such block grant or other available funds for the development and operation of the relative support program by providing available funds which are not otherwise committed to or necessary for the provision of the Statewide Temporary Assistance Responsibility System. In addition, the Department may use any other state, federal or private funds available to the Department for such purposes to implement the provisions of this section.
I. 1. In order to qualify for the receipt of any monthly stipend, the grandparent or other relative shall meet any eligibility criteria determined by the Department of Human Services.
2. Within limits of available funding, monthly stipends may be paid to grandparents or other relatives with the third degree of relationship to the child who have physical full-time custody of a child who would be unable to serve in that capacity without a monthly stipend because of inadequate financial resources, thus exposing the child to the trauma of potential placement in a shelter or in foster care placement by the Department of Human Services. The statewide average monthly rate for children in the legal custody of grandparents or other relatives who are not certified as foster homes shall not exceed the cost of providing foster care.
J. Additional assistance may be made available to qualified grandparents or other relatives within the third degree of relationship and children, based upon specific needs of the grandparent or other relative of the child and the specific needs of the child. Such assistance shall also be subject to available funding.
K. The relative support program established by the Department pursuant to this section may receive referrals from district courts of this state, from social service or child advocate agencies, from any other agency of this state, or other states or federal programs. In addition, the relative support program may be accessed directly by the grandparents or other relatives of the affected children by application made to the Department of Human Services.
L. The Department of Human Services may provide any services necessary to effectuate the purposes of this section by contract with any person or with any public or private entity.
M. The provisions of this section shall also be available to a legal guardian of a child who is within the fifth degree of relation to the child.
N. The Department of Human Services shall, pursuant to the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, [FN1] promulgate any rules necessary to implement the provisions of this section.
O. As a part of the relative support program, the Department shall develop, publish, and distribute an informational brochure for grandparents and other relatives who provide full-time care for children. The information provided under the program authorized by this section may include, but is not limited to, the following:
1. The benefits available to children and grandparents or other relatives pursuant to this section providing full-time care;
2. The procedures to access the relative support program;
3. A list of support groups and resources located throughout the state;
4. Such other information deemed necessary by the Department; and
5. The brochure may be distributed through municipal and district courts, hospitals, public health nurses, child protective services, medical professional offices, county health departments, elementary and secondary schools, senior citizens centers, public libraries, local, city, county and state offices and community action agencies selected by the Department.
P. The Department of Human Services shall submit a report of the outcomes associated with the relative support program established pursuant to this section to the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate on or before January 15, 2002.