Have you heard of being an IEP educational surrogate parent? Many times parents ask me how they can give back to the special needs community. Particularly for those who have their own child’s situation settled and stable, and have knowledge, but maybe not quite enough knowledge to be working professionally as an advocate.
There are many options including Parent Partner or Parent Buddy programs, but there is also a little-known thing called Educational Surrogacy Parents or ESPs. (yes! another acronym) And it’s actually a provision of IDEA!
Blog Owner’s Note: I’m trying really hard to not blame Betsy DeVos and the new administration, but all my previous links to the IDEA website are no longer valid. Until there is more security and stability at the US DoE, I will not be linking to them. I did this as a courtesy, to take you to the direct link in IDEA that you may need. However, it’s equally as frustrating to hit a dead link. Therefore, I am including the Education Law Center’s explanation of this IDEA provision. I hate to tell you to do this, but please do an internet search if you need more information.
Here is also a list of OSEP Dear Colleague letters about educational surrogates, but hey, cannot guarantee that they will be there forever either.
What is an Educational Surrogate Parent?
Educational Surrogacy is actually a program outlined in IDEA 2004. To paraphrase some of the statute and regulations:
(a) General. Each public agency must ensure that the rights of a child are protected when–
(1) No parent (as defined in Sec. 300.30) can be identified;
(2) The public agency, after reasonable efforts, cannot locate a parent;
(3) The child is a ward of the State under the laws of that State; or
(4) The child is an unaccompanied homeless youth as defined in section 725(6) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(6)).
(b) Duties of public agency. The duties of a public agency under paragraph (a) of this section include the assignment of an individual to act as a surrogate for the parents. This must include a method–
(1) For determining whether a child needs a surrogate parent; and
(2) For assigning a surrogate parent to the child.
(c) Wards of the State. In the case of a child who is a ward of the State, the surrogate parent alternatively may be appointed by the judge overseeing the child’s case, provided that the surrogate meets the requirements in paragraphs (d)(2)(i) and (e) of this section.
IDEA criteria for selection of surrogate parents
(1) The public agency may select a surrogate parent in any way permitted under State law.
(2) Public agencies must ensure that a person selected as a surrogate parent–
(i) Is not an employee of the SEA, the LEA, or any other agency that is involved in the education or care of the child;
(ii) Has no personal or professional interest that conflicts with the interest of the child the surrogate parent represents; and
(iii) Has knowledge and skills that ensure adequate representation of the child.
(e) Non-employee requirement; compensation. A person otherwise qualified to be a surrogate parent under paragraph (d) of this section is not an employee of the agency solely because he or she is paid by the agency to serve as a surrogate parent.
(f) Unaccompanied homeless youth. In the case of a child who is an unaccompanied homeless youth, appropriate staff of emergency shelters, transitional shelters, independent living programs, and street outreach programs may be appointed as temporary surrogate parents without regard to paragraph (d)(2)(i) of this section, until a surrogate parent can be appointed that meets all of the requirements of paragraph (d) of this section.
IEP Educational Surrogate parent responsibilities
The surrogate parent may represent the child in all matters relating to–
(1) The identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child; and
(2) The provision of FAPE to the child.
(h) SEA responsibility. The SEA must make reasonable efforts to ensure the assignment of a surrogate parent not more than 30 days after a public agency determines that the child needs a surrogate parent.
Who can be an Educational Surrogate?
Previously, I worked for a disability agency that provided services to individuals with disabilities, so I was unable to be an IEP surrogate. It was considered a conflict of interest. The same goes for teachers, sorry. The conflict of interest arises when, for example, you are an SLP–and let’s say your surrogate child would really benefit from a specific program offered by your agency. You cannot in good conscience, without a conflict of interest, recommend the agency that you work for. Make sense?
However, if there is a dire need in your area, call the agency in the county or state next to you and see if you can do it there. I live in PA, just a few miles from the DE line. I suppose that while I was working for that agency, I could have done Educational Surrogacy in Delaware. I just didn’t because Delaware regs are out of my comfort zone.
So, if you wish to become an ESP, you have to be familiar and comfortable and knowledgeable of the IEP process. You should be a good advocate and able to speak up, problem solve, collaborate. All the skills that a good advocate has. You have to have the time. Think of how much time you devote to your own child’s IEP process, and now double it. You have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent, as pertains to the IEP process. Emotionally, this is very hard at times. These are the “worst case scenarios” as these kids don’t have anyone on their side. These are America’s neglected children, often bounced around to multiple placements, quite often in the Juvenile Justice system, quite often abused and so on. It is not for the faint hearted.
Is Educational Surrogacy only for Special Needs parents?
You do not have to be a parent of a child with an IEP, but usually they are. I mean, who would learn and go through the IEP process if you didn’t have to, right? And different geographic areas have different levels of need. Since I am in suburban Philadelphia and live in a county that have several RTFs and homeless shelters for youth, the need is greater around here. But, there is need everywhere, so if you are interested, ask. You can always be put on a list to be called.
It is also very rewarding and you have the opportunity to give a voice to a child who previously very likely went unheard. You can make a difference in one child’s life. These are the kids who most need a strong person on their team, and you can be that person.
How to become an Educational Surrogate Parent?
Call your state’s Department of Special Education and ask about it. Like I said, it’s part of IDEA, so they should have one and know about it. Most have an application process and a training/set up program of some kind.
*Please note, if your state is not hyperlinked, it is because I could not find one. If you have a good source, email me or leave a comment and I will add it. Thanks.
Some states brought back some really crazy responses, I’m looking at you Kansas and Kentucky. If your state is not here, try asking at your state’s Disability Protection and Advocacy Group.
Pennsylvania-Call your Intermediate Unit/IU, see map