It used to be, years ago, that when the parents in a family had problems, relatives would take care of the kid or kids until those issues got worked out. And they would do so for free.

But that’s changing now. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley plans to officially announce next week a new state government initiative that pays relatives and family members up to $405 a month if they step in to care for children in need.

The new “kinship care reimbursement program” payments will, according to the department, be “a vital resource that will support positive outcomes for children and families and encourage more people to become kinship care providers.”

Senate Bill 20, now law, authorizes the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) to implement a policy that provides payments to family and kin who take care of children who are currently in the custody of social services.

Under this new program, those watching the kids don’t have to meet the requirements of a foster care license.

 “Kinship,” in this context, is defined as “a person who is related by blood, marriage or adoption to a child.”

County and state social services workers often argue that, when children can’t be assured of a safe environment in their own homes, the best alternative in  many cases is for them to stay with their extended family.

NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Opportunity and Well-Being Susan Osborne explained some of the reasoning in a Friday, Nov. 17 press release regarding the new program.

“We know children in foster care do best when placed with relatives because family connections provide a sense of belonging, preserve a child’s cultural identity, build their relationship to their community and children experience fewer behavioral problems,” she said. “Currently about 25 percent of children in foster care live with kinship providers, but with kinship payments and other initiatives we hope to significantly increase this option for children who cannot remain safely in their home.”

Starting in December, kinship providers will receive up to $405 a month for each child in their care.

According to the press release, in the past, most county social services departments lacked the resources to pay kinship providers.

Currently, there are more than 10,000 children in foster care in North Carolina; however, there are only about 5,400 foster homes licensed in the state to care for children in need of a temporary out-of-home placement.

State officials say that more foster homes are needed – especially homes able to care and provide “for older youth and children with complex health and behavioral needs.”

 Less than one-fourth of the children in foster care live in kinship care. This new payment program is expected to increase the number of children who continue to live with their families.

In addition to kinship payments, SB20 also increased pay rates for foster parents across the state.