There are several things you should do right away.
1) Apply for the child-only TANF grant (if you aren't receiving foster care funds). Either that or get a child support order from BOTH the bio-mom and bio-dad. The TANF is usually more than you will ever see in child support so that is the direction I prefer. Child-only TANF is based ONLY on the child's income (child support, SS-survivor benefits or a trust fund). You DO NOT report your income anywhere on the form. Even if you think you do not need the money, this is the child's money and you put it in a college savings fund if you want.
2) TANF will open the door to other services. The most important is Medicaid. Usually you can't add your grandchild to your employer-provided medical insurance policy unles you have guardianship or have adopted. If the child needs health coverage so Medicaid is a good way to go. You have to apply for Medicaid in a different office from the Health & Welfare office that grants TANF but the offices should be close to each other. If you have guardianship, you can also use Medicaid as the child's secondary insurance. Medicaid will pay for the out-of-pocket medical expenses your primary insurance may not cover.
3) Medicaid will open the door ro - and pay for - play or talk therapy for the child and caregiver support FOR YOU. This is really important because dealing with a child who has been switched around between houses is A LOT different from dealing with a 'normal' child who you may have given birth to and raised.
4) Medicaid also opens the door for you to get the child into the WIC program (again, apply separately). The WIC program will monitor the child's growth and help identify health problems that may go unnoticed until much later. IF there are health problems (asthma is common), you need to know them now. The documentation from WIC may be very important later on, too. WIC is for children 5 years old and younger. If the child is already 5 and not in the program, s/he probably won't be accepted, however.
5) Get the child's birth certificate. If the child has been in the foster care system the caseworker has probably pulled a copy. You'll want a copy, too. IF you are related to the bio-dad and he is on the birth certificate (most states don't list a birth father anymore), he may be able to sign the paperwork allowing you to get a copy. However, in most cases, you'll need the bio-mom's signature. Since that will probably be difficult to obtain, you may need the caseworker to apply for the birth certificate for you. Why do you need the birth certificate? Because you need to show a chain of relationship between the grandchild to the bio-parent to you in order to get TANF. Later on you may also need it to get the child into school - even preschool.
6) Get the child's social security number - preferrably the child's SS CARD. Again, you need this for TANF and you're going to want it later because you can claim the child as a dependant on your income taxes. You'll also need the number to gain access to a bunch of other services.
7) Get copies of the child's medical records. If the child was in foster care for a long while, they probably brought him up to date on his vaccinations. However, you need proof of this or else s/he'll have to get them all over again. You also want to pull all the other medical records because they can be eye opening. First of all, you can document long stretches of failing to get the child medical attention OR not following doctor's orders. You can also see what medical tests have and have not been performed. This may be important later on.
8) Document, document, document. I document on a calendar and keep them year to year. Note everytime either bio-parent visits, sends a letter, makes a phone call and talks to the child. Document everytime either bio-parent is supposed to make contact and doesn't. Note when the bio-parents are late or early. Note the gifts that are given (most gifts from bio-parents are NOT age-appropriate.) Document anything that comes to mind. Also take pictures of YOU and the child together. Make sure the pictures are dated in some way. For instance, you can have a magazine in the foreground. Even if you can't read the date on the magazine, you can find out when it was published by researching the picture on the cover. Also take seasonal photos - you and DGS visiting Santa, you and DGS swimming, you and DGS sitting on a pumpkin in a pile of fall leaves, you and DGS dressed in Halloween costumes, you and DGS searching for Easter eggs - you get the idea.
9) Find real-life support groups. We belong to GAP- Grandparents As Parents. If you can't find a chapter nearby, contact your local AARP office and ask them if they know of any grandparenting support groups. These meetings are important because they will key you into local resources and local laws. They will help you navigate some of the local red tape, too. Plus, the groups often have opportunities for THE CHILDREN to get together and realize they are not allow in their situation. My grandhild can't wait to go to the monthly GAP meeting so she can reconnect with her friends there. We went camping with the GAP group earlier this month and she loved it.
10) In addition to a grandparenting specific support group, look into play opportunities for your grandchild. At 3-yrs old, preschool is a real possibility. You can also do programs like Gymboree or Kindermusik. One of the first things I did was join MOPS - Mothers of Preschoolers, which is usually available through a local church. The friendships I developed through there helped save my sanity.
11) Visit the www.radkids.org website and find out about attachment disorders. There are some excellent parenting tips on there, too.
12) DO NOT have visits - with either bio-parent - in your home. Bio visits should be in a public, neutral location. DO NOT stop the visits because of the grandchild's behavior. These are issues s/he has to work through and issues s/he CAN work through while in the safety of your home.
- A little about the author ... I'm known as Cookie. I'm a long time frugal fanatic so when I shop, I prefer to save money. There is no reason to spend more than we have to! However, I also appreciate convenience and fine living. I strive to strike a balance between a nice lifestyle, simplicity and frugal living. I work hard for my money so I like to make my money work hard for me.