Special Populations : Relative Caregiver Program (RCP)

Program/Practice Name: Relative Caregiver Program (RCP)

Agency Name: Tennessee Department of Children's Services

Contact Information:

Carla Aaron
Executive Director, Child Safety
Tennessee Department of Children's Services
436 Sixth Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: (615) 741-8278

Betty Smith
Program Coordinator, Relative Caregiver Program
Tennessee Department of Children's Services
436 Sixth Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: (615) 253-2397

Type of Program/Practice: RCP is a public/private collaboration designed to support children who are not able to be raised by their parents and are being cared for by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members.

Program/Practice Description: The Relative Caregiver Program (RCP) was developed with the guiding principle that in general, abused or neglected children are best served by living with another family member, rather than by going into foster care. To qualify for RCP, a relative caregiver must be related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption; live in the areas that the program serves; and live below 200 percent of the Federal poverty guideline. The project began as a pilot in 2001, and then became a formal program in 2004. RCP has specific outcomes that must be met each year, including requirements such as 50 percent of referrals originating from the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), the Department of Health Services, or juvenile court, and 80 percent of families progressing to independence.

Background/Program History: RCP is funded completely by the State, with a budget of around $4 million. In an innovative use of funds, RCP provides support services, including emergency or start-up financial assistance if a caregiver meets the requirements. Also under these support services, RCP provides material assistance for essential items such as beds, clothing, and household appliances through donations or direct purchases when needed. Over the course of the program, RCP allocation of money has changed in response to funding and needs. RCP has shifted additional program dollars toward disseminating information on the support services to reach more eligible families.

Innovations and Results: Instead of providing ongoing daily service delivery, the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) contracts with private community agencies to provide support services across the state. Not only does this outsourcing save the State staff time and resources, but also these community agencies are often viewed more positively by the families seeking services and the public at large. To support the private agencies in operating the RCP program, DCS provides training, monitoring, group meetings, and technical assistance. During 2010 year, the RCP served 3901 children and 2618 caregivers statewide. One of the state’s required outcomes for the RCP program is that 85 percent of children participating in the program remain in the continuous care of the caregiver; as a result, less than 5 percent of children from the RCP program have entered state custody. By offering supportive services, RCP helps to keep families intact.

Tips to Implementation: When implementing this type of program, States should consider:

  • Working with local service groups to outsource and deliver needed services to youth and families, both for cost-effective reasons and for credibility.
  • Developing partnerships and collaborations between State and local, as well as between community and faith-based, organizations.
  • Form a statewide leadership committee. Tennessee started a statewide kinship committee composed of legislators, caregivers, social workers, State government department leaders, law enforcement, faith-based organizations, and other community leaders. This committee later merged with the State mandated Community Advisory Boards (CABs) to better utilize the time and resources of the shared members.

Keys to Success:

  • Partnerships and collaborations between State and local, as well as between community and faith-based organizations, are a hallmark of RCP. For example, in Nashville, the groups involved in RCP met with community and faith-based organizations to map the services offered to youth and families to learn where their strengths and gaps were. Such collaboration is often new and results in better alignment of services for these youth and families.

Successes: The major success of this program is increasing family stability and preventing children from coming into State custody. RCP promotes greater community buy-in and support for at-risk children and families. Further, RCP encourages collaborations at many levels. RCP represents not just a highly successful client model, but also a program with significant savings of State dollars. For example, without this program, children possibly would be child protective referrals, which is significantly more expensive for the State than the RCP program.

The following tools are associated with Relative Caregiver Program (RCP).  Please send us an email at upitoolkit@icfi.com for more information about these tools.

Relative Caregiver Brochure

Explains the process of becoming a family caregiver and introduces the Relative Caregiver Program

Relative Caregiver Program Newsletter

Publication with resources and important information for the Tennessee relative caregiver network