There are few potential sources of financial assistance for relatives raising children: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); foster care payments; adoption assistance; and subsidized guardianships. In this topic, we only address the broad federal legal requirements for this assistance. State laws for foster care payments, adoption assistance, and subsidized guardianship are analyzed individually under their relevant topic headings on this website.


There are limited potential sources of financial assistance for relatives raising children.  In addition to the programs highlighted here, Social Security survivors and disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and military benefits are a few additional potential sources of help.

  1. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)[1]
  2. Foster Care Payments 
  3. Adoption Assistance
  4. Subsidized Guardianships

TANF is the only one of these four highlighted programs available to grandfamilies outside of the foster care system, with the exception of only a small number of state subsidized guardianship programs. 

All of these programs are federally financed, but for guardianship assistance, states must submit a state plan to take the option to use federal funds to pay for such assistance. Here we only address the broad federal legal requirements. State laws for foster care payments, adoption assistance, and subsidized guardianship are analyzed individually under their relevant topic headings on this website. See below for links.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

As the name suggests, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides temporary assistance to families with very low incomes. Each state determines the income eligibility for its TANF program and the amount of assistance to be provided to families. There are two basic types of grants a relative caregiver may receive under TANF:  "child-only" and "family."
Child-only Grants
"Child-only” grants were designed to consider only the needs and income of the child, although a few western states have begun considering the caregiver's income as well. [2] Because few children have income of their own, almost all relative caregivers can receive a child-only grant on behalf of the children in their care. Unfortunately, child-only grants are typically quite small and may be insufficient to meet the needs of the child. In 2011, the average grant was about $8 per day for one child, with only slight increases for additional children. [3]

Family Grants

The second type of TANF grant for which relative caregivers may be eligible is a “family grant.” One of the purposes of TANF is “to provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives.” [4] Consequently, relative caregivers who meet the state’s income criteria are eligible to receive a grant that addresses their needs, as well as those of the child. Although these grants are larger than the child-only grants, federal law imposes a 60-month time limit and work requirements on such grants. [5] As a result, TANF family grants may not be appropriate for retired relative caregivers or for caregivers who will need assistance for more than 60 months.

Child Support

Under either type of grant, when grandparents or other relatives are receiving TANF benefits on behalf of a child, they must assign their rights to child support to the state. In most states, relative caregivers must cooperate with the child support agency unless they can demonstrate that seeking child support is potentially harmful and they have “good cause” not to cooperate. [6] For example, sometimes grandparents and other relatives are caring for children because the children’s parents were violent; they are fearful that the child support process will lead to additional violence. In such cases, federal law allows states to make good cause exceptions so that child support collection will not be pursued or will be pursued in ways that protect the safety of the caregiver and the children.

Under current law, most of the child support collected for children receiving TANF is kept by the state to recoup the costs of providing assistance. However, states may pass through to relative caregivers any or all of the child support collected. Generally, only a modest amount is passed through, often no more than $50 per month.


Foster Care Payments

In most states, relative caregivers can receive foster care payments on behalf of the children in their care if the children are involved in the child welfare system and the relative becomes a foster parent. The vast majority of children, however, are ineligible for foster care payments because grandparents or other relatives stepped in before the child welfare system became involved.

Foster payments are typically much higher than the TANF child-only payment a grandparent or other relative could receive on behalf of the child in their care. States or counties determine the amount and administer foster care payments. The national average minimum monthly foster care payment is $511 while the average TANF child-only payment is $249. [7]  Foster payments also multiply (e.g. double, triple) as the number of children cared for increases, whereas there are only incremental increases for children receiving TANF.

If the children are very poor, their foster care payments may be eligible for federal reimbursement under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. section 672.  Eligibility for the federal foster care program is important because it may impact the amount of financial assistance available to relative caregivers. [8] Under federal law, a relative who is a licensed foster parent for a child who is Title IV-E eligible must receive the same foster care payment as non-related foster parents. [9]

Relative caregivers who receive foster care payments for Title IV-E eligible children may be required by the child welfare agency, where appropriate, to sign over their rights to child support and to work with the child support agency. [10] As with TANF, though, good cause exceptions may be made. Furthermore, like with TANF, most of the child support collected for children receiving foster care payments is kept by the state to recoup the costs of providing assistance. States may pass through to relative caregivers any or all of the child support collected, although generally it is only a modest amount.

If the children do not meet IV-E criteria, most states will use state or local funds to provide foster care payments to licensed, relative foster parents. States may also provide assistance, with their own funds, to unlicensed relative foster parents; in some states, however, these unlicensed relatives are simply referred to TANF for assistance. Additional information about foster care payments is available in the foster care licensing analysis on this website.


Adoption Assistance

Adoption assistance payments may also be available to relative caregivers who choose to adopt the children in their care. All states provide adoption assistance on behalf of certain children who are adopted from the child welfare system. States may receive federal reimbursement, through Title IV-E, for a portion of the adoption assistance payments made on behalf of very poor children who have “special needs.” [11] “Special needs” are defined by the state, but generally include characteristics or conditions that make it difficult to place the child with adoptive parents without a subsidy. [12] As with foster care, Title IV-E eligibility can make a difference in the amount of the subsidy available and in whether other benefits, like eligibility for Medicaid, come with the subsidy.  For more information on adoption assistance, see the adoption analysis on this website.

Subsidized Guardianships

For licensed foster parents who are caring for related children, subsidized guardianships -- otherwise known as guardianship assistance -- can provide the caregiver with legal authority and financial assistance to care for the children.  A very limited number of states have subsidized guardianship programs for grandfamilies outside the foster care system. See the subsidized guardianship analysis on this website for more information.

If you have any comments concerning this analysis, please contact its author: Ana Beltran, Co-Director, Generations United's National Center on Grandfamilies, at



[1] TANF replaced the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program or “the welfare program”, as it was more commonly known.
[2] Arizona, Oregon, and Washington State have been limiting their child only grants to relative caregivers with very low incomes.

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), TANF and Child Welfare Programs: Increased Data Sharing Could Improve Access to Benefits and Services (Washington, DC: GAO, October 2011).  
[4] 42 U.S.C. section 601.

[5] Federal law prohibits using federal funds to provide assistance to families in which an adult has received TANF assistance for 60 months. Adult recipients must engage in work activities within 24 months of receiving assistance or sooner if states deem them ready to engage in work. States are required to have 50 percent of their families participating in specified work activities for a certain number of hours per week. The number of hours depends upon the age of the youngest child in the home and upon whether the family is a two-parent family or a single-parent family. 42 U.S.C. sections 602, 607, 608

[6] 42 U.S.C. section 608.
[7] See endnote 3.

[8] Eligibility for Title IV-E requires that (1) the child be removed from his or her home pursuant to a court order or voluntary placement agreement, (2) the state or local child welfare agency is responsible for the child's placement and care, (3) the child meets the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) eligibility criteria at the time of removal or within the six months prior to removal and (4) the child is placed in a licensed or approved foster home or child care institution. The AFDC criteria include a requirement that the child be living with a parent or specified relative and that he or she meet the income and resource limits in place in that state on July 16, 1996. If a voluntary placement agreement is used, the child can be eligible for federal foster care assistance for more than 180 days only if there is a court determination that such placement is in the best interest of the child. 42 U.S.C. section 672.

[9] Youakim v. Miller, 440 U.S. 125, 99 S.Ct. 957, 59 L.Ed.2d 194 (1979).
[10] 42 U.S.C. section 671(a)(17).

[11] The child may either meet the AFDC criteria and removal criteria described in note 8 or the criteria for the Supplemental Security Income program (Title XVI of the Social Security Act).

[12] 42 U.S.C. section 673(c).

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