Many relative caregivers have trouble enrolling children in school or accessing special education services for children in their care because they lack legal custody or guardianship.
Barriers to Enrollment
Many states have residency requirements that require children to enroll in a school district for a “legitimate” purpose, i.e., not solely to attend a particular school. Some local school districts require caregivers to show documentation of legal custody or guardianship to enroll the children.
Districts require this proof to prevent families from shopping for a particular school. However, this requirement can unjustly prevent children who are being raised informally by relative caregivers from attending any school at all.
Laws and Programs Responding to these Challenges
Some states have developed ways to balance the concerns of school systems and the needs of grandfamilies by enacting consent or power of attorney laws:
Education consent laws allow relative caregivers -- without legal relationships to the children they raise -- to access school enrollment. Over one fourth of the states have these laws. One of the oldest is in California, where a relative caregiver without legal custody or guardianship of a child can submit the same affidavit to enroll the child in school and to provide consent for the child’s medical treatment.
Power of Attorney
Almost half the states have power of attorney laws that specifically state that parents can bestow relatives with the power of attorney for the care of their children. These states typically allow the power of attorney to be designated for six months to a year, so it may not be the best option for long term caregivers. Once the designation is complete, caregivers should be able to enroll a child tuition-free in public school.
Other State Approaches
Some states defines residency based on where the child lives, not where the parent lives. This practice allows children in grandfamilies to enroll in public school tuition-free. A searchable database of states laws affecting education for children in grandfamilies is available at the Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Language in Title I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides funding to schools in high-poverty communities to assist disadvantaged children. It provides some funds to encourage parental involvement with a child’s education. The definition of “parent” includes grandparents and other relatives raising children: "The term “parent” includes a legal guardian or other person standing in loco parentis (such as a grandparent or stepparent with whom the child lives, or a person who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare.)" 20 USC section 7801(31).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds:
- Special education services, for K-12
- Early intervention services for children birth to three (Part C)
- Pre-school services (Part B)
Services can include speech, physical, and occupational therapies. Grandparents or other relatives are specifically included in the IDEA regulations as a “parent” and can access services on behalf of children (34 CFR 300.30(a)). Some jurisdictions reportedly require relative caregivers to go through a process to become a “surrogate parent” in order to be considered a “parent”. The plain language of the federal regulation provision above does not require this step for these caregivers.
” is a part of the IDEA that requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, ages birth to 21, who are in need of early intervention or special education services.
Kinship Navigator Programs
Kinship navigator programs provide information, referral, and follow-up services to grandparents and other relatives raising children to link them to the benefits and services that they or the children need. Navigators help relatives’ access programs, including educational services. A list of known navigators can be found here
If you need additional information and support, visit the Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center
or connect with support groups
in your area.
The Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center
Grand Resources: A Grandparent’s and Other Relative’s Guide to Raising Children with Disabilities
State Educational and Health Care Consent Laws: Policy Brief
Legal Center for Foster Care and Education
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: The Second Intergenerational Action Agenda
Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: Access to Education
Grand Partners in Education Project