Q: What challenges do children in dependency face when it is time for school to start? Who is responsible for making sure abused children get the education they deserve?
A: Children in dependency have continual struggles in their schooling. For example, dependency children are more likely than non-dependency children to be held back a grade, fail the FCAT, attend multiple schools, and have an individual educational plan. It is speculated that every time a child changes schools, their education backslides by six months, so it is no surprise that children in dependency are often grades behind their peers.
Case managers are required to check on the child's performance and attendance every 30 days and submit a report, but that doesn't guarantee educational success. The best education results for all children are achieved when the parents choose to stay involved in the child's schooling.
Even though a dependency child may be living in foster care or with a relative or friend, the parent can stay involved in the child's education in most situations. Foster parents, Guardians ad Litem and other caregivers may choose to be involved in the child's school. The more people who advocate for the child's education, the better the child will fare.
Q: What if the parent is not allowed to be involved in the child's education?
A: Guardians ad Litem can have a powerful voice in the educational advocacy of dependency children. Under current state statute, a Guardian ad Litem can be court appointed as an educational surrogate for the child they represent.
Q: What does it mean to be appointed as an educational surrogate?
A: Under Chapter 39.0016, an educational surrogate can be a Guardian ad Litem appointed by the dependency court to act as the parent of the child in all educational matters. This means the Guardian ad Litem can sign the IEP, request academic testing, and be the main contact for the school regarding that particular child. Only Guardians ad Litem who have had special school board training may qualify to be educational surrogates.
Not every child will qualify to have an educational surrogate. Chapter 39 provides a surrogate to dependency children who currently have an IEP or are in need of academic testing when their parent is unable or unavailable to actively participate in their education. The educational surrogate stays in place until the child is no longer in need of the surrogate or the dependency court terminates supervision and/or jurisdiction on the child's case.
Q: How can the public help?
A: The United Way of Manatee is involved in a statewide program called "Reading Pal" and is seeking volunteers to read to children in second grade at Daughtrey Elementary for one hour a week. If you would be interested in volunteering to read to a child, you can visit the United Way website at www.uwmc.net or call them at 941-748-1313.
Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Herald. Readers who have questions for "Ask the GAL" about child abuse, foster care, child protection, adoption, or who might be interested in learning more how to become a GAL volunteer can e-mail Pam at email@example.com, or write to her at Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.