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Learn the Surrogate Parent Role

Here are a few simple guidelines to secure needed information to plan effectively for the child. If you are a foster parent appointed to serve as surrogate parent for a child in your care, you are in a unique position to be aware of the child's likes and dislikes, abilities and needs, and learning style. However, if you do not know the child you have been appointed to represent, you may need to take some time learning about the child and his or her educational history.

Gather information:

  • Meet the child, visit the child's home if possible, or visit the child's school.
  • If the child is young or has cognitive limitations, present yourself as a friend since the surrogate parent term may be confusing to the child.
  • If the child is a ward of the state, talk with the child's county case manager about his or her educational history.
  • Review the child's special education records. Ask the school to make copies of school records for you.
  • Visit the class to observe the child and talk with the teachers.
  • Make certain that teachers, therapists, supervisors, and other professionals involved with the child know that you are acting as the child's surrogate parent (as well as being his or her foster parent, if this is the case).
  • Fill out a " Student Profile Sheet " on the child.
  • Keep a record and file of all written and verbal contact you have with the school.
  • Ask questions about anything you do not understand.

Learn about the disability:

The surrogate parent will also need to learn about the child's disability area(s). You can find many organizations that provide information specific to the disability area(s) that impact your child. We provide a list of some of these organizations sorted by category.

Learn about the child:

It is important for the surrogate parent to spend time observing the child at school and seeing the child in the home environment, reviewing the child's records, and talking to the child's county case manager. Then the surrogate parent can begin to answer some of the following questions. Questions can be the surrogate parent's most powerful tool in learning about the child.

How does the child learn?

  • By watching?
  • By hearing?
  • In a group? Alone?

What does the child like or dislike about school?

  • What is the child's favorite part of the school day? Favorite academic subject? Least favorite subject?
  • What are the child's general feelings about school?

What are the child's special interests or hobbies?

  • What does the child enjoy doing?
  • Does the child like to play games by him or herself or with others?
  • Does the child like group sports?

What are the child's attitudes about and relationships with other people?

  • With close adults such as foster parents? Other adults?
  • With other children? Peers?
  • Does the child play alone? With adults? With other children?
  • To which school staff does the child relate well to?

What are the child's strengths?

To what does the child respond?

  • Verbal praise?
  • Material things (food, toys, etc.)?

Is the child afraid of anything?

What kind of living skills and adaptive behavior does the child exhibit?

  • Independent or dependent upon adults?
  • Age-appropriate everyday functioning?
  • What is the child's developmental history?
  • Age of walking? Age of talking?
  • Does the child compensate for the disability? When did this begin? (For example, at what age did a child who is deaf begin using sign language? When did the child with a physical disability begin using a wheelchair?)

What is the child's medical history?

  • Is there a history of medical problems affecting education?
  • Is the child currently taking any medication?

Keeping Confidentiality

Surrogate parents have access to the child's school records that may contain confidential information. They also will receive confidential information while talking with teachers and county social workers. It is important to use this information with care and discretion and respect the privacy of the child and his or her family.

For more information

For more information, download Training for Surrogate Parents.

The Special Education Process

Surrogate parents are appointed to assure that the child's rights are protected. The surrogate parent will need know how the special education process works. You can find much of our information on the section Understanding the Special Education Process.

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