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A Resource Guide for

Massachusetts’ Grandparents

Raising their Grandchildren

Updated October, 2013







Many people contributed to this Resource Guide in various ways.

We are grateful for their assistance.

This Guide is dedicated to all Grandparents who have taken responsibility for raising their children’s children.

We appreciate their selfless caregiving.

The collaborating agencies of this Guide encourage and give permission for the duplication and distribution of this material. This information is available online at www.mass.gov/elders


Assuming the responsibility of raising grandchildren is often an unanticipated situation for grandparents. Identifying financial, social, health and legal resources can be confusing, difficult and time-consuming. Knowing what services and programs are available and where to access information is essential in managing a new family situation and parenting responsibilities. This Guide was developed to assist grandparents and other kinship caregivers to locate and obtain needed resources.

The Executive Office of Elder Affairs first initiated the project in 1994 and developed it in collaboration with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. In 2009, the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate provided invaluable guidance and support to the creation of this updated Guide. All of these agencies recognize the complex situations that grandparents face in raising grandchildren.

The social phenomenon of grandparents raising grandchildren is not isolated to any particular racial or ethnic group, geographical location, or economic circumstance. The reasons for this need vary. In many situations, drug and alcohol may have seriously affected the parents' capacity to care for their children. Other circumstances that may lead grandparents to raise their children's children include military service, physical or mental illness, incarceration, teen pregnancy, death and abandonment.

Whatever the reason, grandparents' traditional roles change dramatically when they assume the total responsibility of caring for their grandchildren. Although each family situation is unique, there are many similar needs and concerns. The well-being of all family members is essential -- meeting the needs of both children and grandparents is of equal concern. Consideration and better support for these families are developing as the public and policy-makers become aware of this social issue and of the unmet needs and concerns of these grandparent-headed families. On July 8, 2008, the Child Advocate bill was signed into law which, among other things, established the Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. This Commission is actively working to better understand and address the needs of grandparents in this situation.

This Guide should be considered a resource of information and is not a substitute for legal counsel. Information in this Guide is subject to change.

We hope A Resource Guide for Massachusetts’ Grandparents Raising their Grandchildren will be a useful source of information for you.


John A. Lepper, Chair
Lynn Girton, Vice-Chair

Kerry Bickford, Secy/Treasurer
Ted Dusbky

Margo Chevers

Jeffrey Quinn

Manuela DaCosta

Paul Donato

Sheila Donahue-King

Carol Flaherty
Patricia Gorman
Patricia Jehlen

John Laing

Commission on the Status of Grandparents

Raising Grandchildren

On July 8, 2008, the Child Advocate bill was signed into law which included the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Section 1 of Chapter 176, the Acts of 2008 M.G.L. Chapter 3, section 69. This legislation calls for “a permanent commission on the status of grandparents raising grandchildren which consists of 11 persons who have demonstrated a commitment to grandparents”.

The Commission’s primary purpose is to serve as a “resource to the commonwealth on issues affecting grandparents raising grandchildren”.

The Commission’s responsibilities include:

~ Fostering unity among grandparents raising grandchildren, communities and organizations in the commonwealth, by promoting cooperation and sharing of information and encouraging collaboration and joint activities;

~ Serving as a liaison between government and private interest groups with regard to the unique interest and concern of grandparents raising grandchildren;

~ Advising executive and legislative bodies of the potential effect of proposed legislation on grandparents raising grandchildren as the commission deems necessary and appropriate;

~ Identifying issues that are faced by relatives, other than parents, who are raising children.

Currently, the Commission meets monthly at the Executive Office of Elder Affairs located at One Ashburton Place, Boston. These meetings are open to the public. For meeting dates, please check the EOEA website at: www.mass.gov/elders.

To contact the Commission:

Mail: Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

c/o Executive Office of Elder Affairs, One Ashburton Place, Boston, MA 02108

Email: grandparents@

Phone: (to leave a message) Executive Office of Elder Affairs 617.727.7750 or

Department of Children and Families 617.748.2000

Table of Contents


Getting Started: What to Consider



Care and Custody Basics



Childcare, Preschool, After-school & School Programs



Financial Issues, Child Support and Public Assistance



Legal Services and Referrals



Health and Insurance



Safety In and Outside of Home



Counseling and Mental Health



Disability Services



Resources for Specific Communities



Helpful Hints for Grandparents By Grandparents


  1. Getting Started: What to Consider

A. Where should I start?

B. What information is in this guide?

C. How do I use this guide?


A. Where should I start?

Caring for your grandchildren can be a planned arrangement or can happen unexpectedly. Either way, at times it may seem like an overwhelming responsibility. Each family has its own unique dynamic and resources that will impact decisions about what type of caretaking arrangement and support it needs. With this in mind, we suggest that grandparents, who are considering or just assuming this responsibility, ask yourselves the questions below. These questions are intended to lead you from assessing your situation and concerns to the resources and information you need. This Guide is a starting point in gaining information and referrals to resources.

Questions to consider, to ask yourself…

  1. Am I physically and emotionally healthy enough to assume this responsibility? Where applicable, is my spouse or partner?

  1. How involved will the parents of my grandchildren be with their care, if at all?

  1. Are there family members who I can rely on to help with this responsibility?

  1. Will this be a temporary or permanent arrangement? If it will be temporary, for how long am I prepared to take on this responsibility?

  1. Can I be flexible if something changes and I need to take care of my grandchildren for longer than I originally expected?

  1. Do my grandchildren have any special health or educational needs? How will this impact my ability to care for them?

  1. What level of financial support, if any, do I need to provide adequate care?

  1. Will my grandchildren have to change schools or move to a new neighborhood? If so, how will this impact the decision about whether this is a temporary or arrangement?

  1. Are there any existing legal or safety issues that need to be considered?

  1. Is there any existing court order about who should have custody or visitation and is the court order being followed?

  1. How old are the grandchildren involved? If appropriate, have their wishes been considered?

  1. Do I have a back-up plan if I become injured or sick?

B. What information is in this guide?

This Guide provides basic information and program descriptions of relevant state agencies and offers suggestions about accessing other public and private resources. It contains information about who to call for assistance; offers practical suggestions; and answers to some frequently asked questions. At the same time, there may be other resources available, not included in the guide. Because every family is unique, some of the information may not apply to your circumstances.

C. How do I use this guide?

Some people may want to read the entire guide, while others will look only for contact information and resources, or answers to specific questions. We recommend that grandparents considering assuming responsibility for grandchildren read the section on Care and Custody Basics. This will give you an overview of your options.

This guide is organized into subjects that encompass a variety of the challenges for grandparents caring for their grandchildren. Whenever possible, the guide provides both telephone numbers and links to websites for relevant state agencies, community organizations and national resources.

We have made every effort to make the Guide information current but, inevitably, information may change. If you have a problem with contact information, try consulting www.mass.gov or your current local phone book.

This Guide should be considered a resource of information and is not a substitute for legal counsel.

II. Care and Custody Basics

A. Possible options for grandparents taking care of their grandchildren

1. Temporary Agent

2. Caregiver Authorization

3. Guardianship

4. Foster Care

5. Adoption

B. The state’s involvement with my grandchildren

1. Department of Children and Families (formerly Department of Social Services)

2. Child in Need of Services (CHINS)

C. Abused or neglected grandchildren

D. Visitation

E. Traveling out of state

F. Frequently asked questions


  1. Possible Options for Grandparents Providing Care and Custody

Once a grandparent has made the decision to care for grandchildren, there are a number of different ways in which care can be assumed. It is important to remember that each arrangement has different legal consequences for you, your grandchild and the child’s parents. Each way also presents possibilities, in terms of the programs and services that the child and/or the family may be eligible to receive. The following is a general description of each type of arrangement. For more detailed information you may wish to read through the Frequently Asked Questions at the end of the Care and Custody Basics section.

1. Temporary Agent

The parent or legal guardian of a child or children can appoint a Temporary Agent who will have the power to make decisions for the children for a period not longer than 60 days. This can be very useful if they anticipate being temporarily unable to care for the children because of illness, employment, or travel and the children will be in the care of another adult. This gives the temporary agent any powers that the parent or guardian has regarding the care, custody and property of the child.

Nothing needs to be filed in court for this process but the parent or guardian must complete a * TEMPORARY AGENT AFFIDAVIT. The parent, guardian or the agent will need to give a copy of this form to the children’s school, doctor, and anyone else who requires the signature of the children’s guardian. A list of everyone to whom the form was given should be kept so that if any changes are needed, all can be notified. The original should be kept in a safe place.

*A copy of this affidavit with instructions can be found at the end of this chapter.

2. Caregiver Authorization

This is a new option created with the passage of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code in 2009. Parents may authorize a designated caregiver to exercise “concurrent parental rights”. This authority extends to health care and education only. The “caregiver” must reside with the minor child. The authorization is valid for up to two years, but can then be renewed.

The Caregiver Authorization Affidavit is signed by the parent, witnessed and notarized. It does not require approval of any court. Parties to a Caregiver Authorization Affidavit will not be filing the Affidavit with the Court unless there is a dispute, in which case the Probate and Family court would have jurisdiction.

Use of this document may provide some families with an alternative to filing for Guardianship of a Minor. The circumstances in which the authorization is valid are, however, limited to those concerning the minor’s education and health care.

This is a useful tool for stepparents, grandparents and other adults who live with the child and who may be called upon to make health care and educational decisions.

The form can be found at:

Caregiver Authorization Affidavit Form

For instructions to complete the form:

Massachusetts Caregiver Authorization Affidavit Instructions

3. Guardianship

A guardianship is a temporary or permanent arrangement, decreed by the court, effectively suspending the rights of the child’s parents and transferring them to a guardian who is legally given the power and duty to take care of the child. A guardian is appointed when a court determines that a child’s parent(s) are unfit or unable to care for him or her. A grandparent may petition to be appointed as his or her grandchild’s guardian, which would give the grandparent authority to act on behalf of his or her grandchild and generally to be able to make medical, educational, and financial decisions for the child. Guardians can sometimes obtain child support from the child’s parents or the state. In a DCF sponsored guardianship, a child may continue to receive subsidy payments in amounts equal to that of foster care payments.

Guardianships can be temporary or permanent. A temporary guardianship usually expires after ninety (90) days. The guardian then has to go back to court to have the guardianship extended or the rights of the guardian to make decisions on behalf of the child will be terminated when the temporary guardianship expires.

A permanent guardianship does not have to be continually renewed by the court. However, the guardian must file a yearly report with the court that updates the court’s information about the current living situation and care of the child. Permanent guardianships can be a good option for grandparents who don’t want to have to return to court on a regular basis, but who are not ready to take the step of adopting their grandchildren. A permanent guardianship leaves open the possibility the parents may seek to have the child returned to them. If the parent can prove to the court he or she is a fit parent and able to properly care for the child, the court must return the child to his or her parent.

4. Foster Care

Foster care is substitute care for children, arranged by the state because the child’s parents have been determined to be unfit or unavailable. Foster care usually means that the Department of Children and Families has legal custody of the child and places him or her in the care of an approved person. Foster parents can either be certified to take any child, or restricted substitute care providers, meaning they have been approved to care only for specific children. If a grandparent chooses to become a foster parent to a grandchild, the grandparent will be a restricted substitute care provider. When DCF has care or custody of the child, DCF will conduct a screening and approval process. Once approved, the family may be entitled to additional services, financial subsidy, MassHealth, and case management services. The child is eligible for these services regardless of caretaker income.

5. Adoption

Adoption is the most permanent way for a grandparent to assume care and responsibility of a grandchild. Adoption means the child legally becomes the grandparent’s, and legally has the same relationship to the grandparent that a biological child would. Adoption terminates the parental rights of the biological parents. This process is done through the courts and may require witnesses, including you, to testify that the biological parents are unfit or unavailable. Once the court has approved the adoption and the adoption is final, the adoptive parents assume all of the rights and responsibilities of biological parents.

Adoption is permanent and there is no legal difference between the relationship and obligations of a parent to a biological child and one who has been adopted. Therefore, it is important to consider whether this significant step is right for your family before adopting your grandchildren. It is also important to remember that once you legally adopt a child, you may no longer be eligible for certain subsidies or services available to guardians or foster parents. However, if a child is adopted through DCF, the family/child may continue to be eligible for some financial assistance or MassHealth services through the Adoption Subsidy Program.

  1. The State is involved with Grandchildren

When parents abuse or neglect their children, or the children are defiant and refuse to follow the lawful rules of their parent or guardian, the state may become involved. In some cases, these families will receive support services to protect the children while keeping the family intact. In other cases, it is necessary to remove the children from the custody of their parents and place them in another care arrangement for their safety. The two ways your family is most likely to interact with the state are through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Child in Need of Services (CHINS) process through the courts.

  1. Department of Children and Families (DCF)

DCF, formerly the Department of Social Services (DSS), is the Massachusetts state agency responsible for protecting children from child abuse and neglect. When children are abused or neglected by the people responsible for caring for them, DCF will intervene to ensure the safety of the children. DCF responds to reports of abuse or neglect 24 hours a day. DCF becomes involved if there are any concerns that caretakers, parents, step-parents, guardians or other persons responsible for caring for children may be abusing or neglecting these children.

DCF may respond to a report of abuse by assigning an investigator to make a home visit. The investigator may also want to speak to your grandchild’s teacher, pediatrician, school counselor, or other persons who may have relevant information concerning the case. If there is reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect has occurred, a social worker will complete an assessment and service plan for the family. DCF will take action to protect a child at risk of abuse or neglect, including removing the child from his or her home if necessary.

Whenever possible and appropriate, DCF attempts to keep families intact. DCF’s goal is to ensure that children’s health and safety needs are being addressed and to help parents care for their children in their own home, unless the child is at risk of harm.

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