Relative Adoption

Title IV-E of the Social Security Act requires states to “consider giving preference to an adult next of kin over a nonrelated caregiver when determining placement for a child, provided that the relative caregiver meets all relevant State child protection standards.” This is a requirement for receiving federal payments for adoption assistance. The title also requires the states to make due diligent efforts to locate the grandparents and other adult next of kin of the child and allow to relative to take parent in the placement of the child.
In 41 states and Puerto Rico, the law gives priority or preference to relative adoption. In 9 states, the law requires the state to make reasonable attempts to locate the child’s adult relatives in case of an out of home placement. The statute in 4 states, Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and Guam is silent on the placement of children with relatives. In all other states, the law uses the words “may consider”.


Who is a relative will depend on how the state law defines relative. It can include relatives by blood, adoption, marriage and can range from the first to the fifth degree. The general order of preference is the grandparents followed by aunts, uncles, other siblings (adult) and cousins. In 8 states, the members of an Indian tribe are considered as extended family members.
Generally the agency must determine whether or not the relative is willing and if willing whether the relative is fit to provide suitable placement for the child and can take care of the child. In three states, relatives wanting to be foster parents must complete licensure requirements. In Illinois and Wisconsin, the relative must be licensed in order to receive foster care aid. In 21 states and Washington DC, the relative (and all other adult members of the household) will be subject to a criminal background check.

Financial Support

Relatives with whom the children are placed may be entitled to financial assistance from the state in the District of Columbia and 15 states to offset the expenses for caring for the child. In 13 states, the law provides for financial payment and support for kin caregivers subject to certain qualifications.

Adoption by Next of Kin/ Related

Agencies in 7 states have a duty to prefer the relatives of the child if the child is being placed for adoption. In 4 states, a foster parent who is not a relative will be given first preference if the child has been in foster care with that foster parent for a substantial period of time.

In 31 states when the parent directly places the child with a relative, the adoption process is streamlined and many requirements such as home study and pre-placement assessment are waived unless specifically required by the court. The law in 12 states requires the child to have resided with the next of kin for a certain period of time or developed a significant bond with the relative in some other manner. In 21 states, the adopting next of kin and other adult household members will be subject to criminal background check.

If you are considering adopting a child related to you, here are a few things you need to keep in mind:

• Adoption laws vary significantly from one state to another.

• Because of the significant difference in the state laws, the information contained in this section is general information. Seek the advice of an experienced adoption attorney in your state to know more about the law.

• Relative adoptions are different from stepparent adoptions. Depending on the state law an abbreviated homestudy or none at all may be required. Who is a relative for the purpose of a relative adoption will depend on the definition of a relative under the state law.Generally relatives include grandparents, aunts, uncles and other siblings (adult).

General Considerations

1. In a relative adoption, like in any other adoption, the parental rights of both biological parents must be terminated. Depending on the state law, new birth certificates may be issued and the adoption records sealed.

2. Relative adoption may be the best solution for the child. It can however affect your relationship with your relative. The relationship can become severely damaged or strained due to many issues including who is actually the parent. How you handle your relationship with your relative post the adoption will depend on your personal circumstances.

3. Talking to the child about the adoption can be an emotionally complex task. Seek the assistance of support groups and educational tapes and books.

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