Let’s talk Guardianship for a moment…I want to start by saying I’m not a lawyer (my budget did not have room for law school). So I cannot provide legal advice on this topic…But what I CAN do is share my knowledge about the subject. So now that’s out of the way…
My guess is that most of you don’t have the whole story of what is guardianship. What does guardianship look like and what alternatives there are when your child turns 18. Whoa, what? There are ALTERNATIVES? Yep!
Transition to Adulthood and Guardianship
When your child nears 18 years old, you and your child will be attending IEP meetings that will focus more on the transition to adulthood (begins at age 14 in some states and age 16 in others). One of IDEA’s essential items is that the IEP team/school district must inform you and your child of the transfer of rights when your child turns 18. In most states, schools are only obligated by law to provide information regarding either obtaining court-appointed guardianship of your adult child or letting your child become their “own person” (able to make all their decisions on their own). This is a HUGE disservice, in my opinion, and experience, to your child and you, the parent. Quite honestly, the future natural and paid supports and services your child will encounter down the road need to be supported by you.
Guardianship Questions to Ask Yourself
Parents need to understand that there are so many things to consider regarding guardianship. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you aware that in some states, there are different “levels” of guardianship?
- Do you know that many states recognize something called Supported Decision Making as an alternative to guardianship that doesn’t involve lawyers and court costs?
- Did you know that Durable Power of Attorney doesn’t necessarily mean you need an attorney?
- Do you know that in some states, if the child states they don’t feel they need a guardian, the lawyer must represent and argue the child’s wishes in court? That doesn’t mean that the judge will agree. However, the child has a considerable say in the matter.
- Do you know the laws and regulations in your state? I personally have never sat through a transition-focused IEP meeting where the school provides alternative information about other options to full guardianship. Quite frankly, by most state laws, they don’t have to!
Guardianship Representation Options
Parents are led to believe that full court-appointed guardianship is the ONLY way to keep their child safe and protected as an adult. They are given misinformation or no information on HOW to apply for guardianship. That’s something you need to figure out on your own, right? NO! There is a growing movement of awareness that’s spreading from state to state about the not so pretty side of guardianship. There are hundreds of nightmarish accounts of guardianship-gone-wrong and how it all could’ve been avoided if people were educated and received consultation on the ins and outs of guardianship and all the alternatives.
I work with families who are blown away when they find out that there is another way that could allow their adult child more autonomy while still being able to support them with major life decisions. Some have asked for mediation support to help their adult child regain their rights through the court. Depending on where you live, some jurisdictions turn a blind eye to what the individual wants, or thinks is best for them. If they appoint a legal guardian, it’s VERY DIFFICULT in some states to reverse that decision.
My advice to you as a parent is to not make this decision without doing your research. Consult with several organizations, preferably those who don’t have “skin in the game,” so to speak (i.e., don’t rely on schools, lawyers, or government agencies). See if your state recognizes Supported Decision Making as a legitimate alternative to guardianship and make sure you understand it thoroughly. Your child deserves the best opportunity for success and independence! Make sure they get it!
About the Author
Jennifer Hulme of Hulme Resources provides unique opportunities to receive private case management that are truly patient-centered. I work to engage, educate, and empower so that you tear down any barriers that are getting in the way of your child’s goals. Jennifer can counsel you on IEPs, 504 plans, benefits planning, and guardianship. Check out Jennifer on Vitalxchange and book a session with her through her personal page.