Many times when a child is in need of a temporary guardian, there is little time to make the choice to do it or not. Yes the child needs you but is your situation conducive to raising another child…even temporarily? There are issues surrounding legal guardianship of a child that come up that you may not think about beforehand. So let’s go over a few questions that will get you to thinking ahead before making that final legal commitment.
Is the child acting out and getting in trouble with the law?
You will be legally responsible for the actions of this child. If the child skips school so many days a year, the local authorities can fine or even place you in jail for it. Find out what is going on with the child before agreeing to guardianship. Is the child on drugs? Will you have to lock up the liquor cabinet to prevent underage drinking in your home and possible legal problems about this? Is the child sexually active? Will you be able to provide for the child’s baby if she gets pregnant while under your care? If not, say no to temporary guardianship of her. If you are unable or unwilling to house an underage unwed teenager and her newborn, then it is better not to take over this responsibility because as we all know, accidents happen. Teens as young as thirteen years old are having babies.
Will the child get along with you and the rest of your family?
Think long and hard about this one. Possibly arrange for a week-long visit to see how the other family members get along with her. You may find that everyone gets along beautifully or that there is an issue to iron out. This is especially going to be important if the child will be sharing a bedroom with one of your children. Talk to the child about family house rules and tell her that she is expected to follow all rules as the other children do. Be plain spoken about curfews, rules, expectations, punishments, and allowances before the child moves in.
Will you be able to get medical and dental coverage for the child?
This is one question that most people worry about but usually a family’s insurance has no problem covering children who are legally part of the family, even temporarily. Medicaid is an option but only if your income qualifies. Try to add the child as soon as possible to get the child into a doctor for checkups and routine basic tests and shots for school. She may not have been to a doctor before or in a long time so this can be stressful for her. To get medical care for a child, you do need a notarized statement from the parent at the very least or the doctor will not see the child.
Do you know your state laws and process for legal guardianship of a child?
This is an easy process that generally is done quickly with no issues. It is simple and will require the biological parents’ approval as well as the child’s approval to live with you if they are over the age of thirteen years old or so. This may vary from state to state. Expect a court official to come out to your home to speak to the child after she has been in the home for a bit. Most times this simple process is over quickly and finalized with no problems. One aspect to expect is telling the judge why the child needs to be placed outside of the parents’ home. This will be done in front of the child usually so talk to her before the court date. It can be upsetting and embarrassing to the child to tell all about neglect, abuse, poverty, home life, etc while the child is standing there. You, the adult, will be expected to do this, not the child. Nonetheless, expect the child to be upset by it all being said in court.
What will the school need to enroll the child?
This is especially important to know before leaving the child’s original home so you can pick up any important documents like a social security card and a birth certificate. Call the school to find out what will be needed. You may need to have paperwork notarized saying you have guardianship over the child since the court proceedings may take a few weeks to get done.
Do you need anything special to travel with the child out of the area?
If you are flying on a plane, you will not be asked for identification for the child nor will you need guardianship paperwork. It is a good thing to have just in case but generally it is not required for flights in the United States. Crossing international borders may be a sticky issue according to where you are flying to and from so find out before you leave with the child exactly what you need to bring.
Will you be able to afford activity fees, sports equipment, band instruments, school supplies and clothing, etc?
Think about this before taking over guardianship of a child. If your children are in sports, you can’t leave this new child out. Think ahead to all of the fees, payments, etc that will come with having an additional child in the household. Don’t expect the biological parent to foot the bill either, this may or may not happen.
As you can see, there are a number of issues to consider before doing this. In an emergency situation, families may not have time to digest and consider the impact on the family and finances. Usually though you will have time to think ahead and answer these questions. These are not all of the questions but it will get you to thinking about the possibility that you may not be able to do it after all. At the very least, you will be prepared for anything that comes up during the temporary legal guardianship of a friend’s or family member’s child. Most of us would think only with our hearts and hope for the best. Be prepared and things will go much smoother in the long run…. not only for your family but also for the child entering your household.