by Callie Langford
“We become the special education decision maker. Any child with special education accommodations has to have a parent or a surrogate parent on their team. The school can appoint someone as surrogate parent, but it’s better if CASA does it because we know more about the child and exactly what worked for them in the last school. If they move schools, we move with them.”
Senior Teen Advocacy Specialist Melanie Babbit is one of our experts in surrogate parenting, a next level educational advocacy role that CASA volunteers can play for children in need of special education. This role is usually only needed when biological parents are not engaging in the case, and when the child is regularly placed in a shelter or treatment center or other non-family environment.
Just this past summer CASA worked with a teen who transferred schools from a different city in the final few weeks of the school year. This was their second school transfer this year. Typically grades and other records can be delayed or get messed up during a transfer, but this youth had a CASA volunteer serving as their surrogate parent. CASA knew everything about the teen’s educational needs and their STAAR testing and special education accommodations. We were able to provide the new school with all of their records and crucial information. Had we not been in this role, it’s highly unlikely all of the teen’s records and information would have been straightened out before the start of summer.
Melanie shares that some schools are very accommodating and welcoming of CASA volunteers when it comes to educational advocacy, while others are not as open. “It’s a real struggle to get into those schools even with the court appointment of CASA, but when schools know you’re also serving in the role of surrogate parent, it helps because they know that you are a decision maker and are watching to make sure all requirements are complete.”
Being a surrogate parent doesn’t mean you have to make all the decisions regarding education. It’s only about special education needs, not the daily decisions that Child Protective Services or a placement would make. And it’s always preferable that a child not need a surrogate parent in the first place because their parents are engaged and able to make sound decisions for their children.
If you are a CASA volunteer and you feel like a child on your case is in need of this next level advocacy, talk with your supervisor about asking to be appointed to the role by the court and taking the additional training. Texas CASA offers a 2-hour webinar certification where you learn about: obtaining and reviewing school records, requesting evaluations, participating in an ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) meeting, accountability requirements for IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), protecting a student’s rights during discipline proceedings, and ensuring services to transition into adulthood.
Advocacy 2018 August