What are the Requirements for a Surrogate Parent?
A surrogate parent is an individual who represents the student determined eligible for special education services under IDEA, or thought-to-be eligible student, in matters relating to the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Federal regulations define a surrogate parent and delineate the requirements that must be met when a public agency selects and assigns a surrogate parent for a child. Specifically, federal law requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to establish and maintain procedures for assigning a surrogate parent to any child whenever no parent can be identified, after reasonable efforts no biological or adoptive parent can be located, the child is an unaccompanied homeless youth, or the child is a ward of the state under the laws of that state (this last criterion does not apply in Pennsylvania, which has no such state law definition).
The surrogate parent must not be an employee of any public agency involved in the education or care of the child. For more information on this topic see Chapter 3. A surrogate parent is an individual who meets specific qualifications and volunteers to perform the duties of a parent or guardian in the special education process. Surrogate parents can be appointed by a judge or a public agency, which in Pennsylvania means a school district, public charter school or an intermediate unit, to make decisions related to the special education process.
A surrogate parent must:
• Not be an employee of a public or private agency involved in the education or care of the child. This includes an employee of PDE, the LEA, or any other agency that is involved in the education or care of the child, and includes public and private child welfare caseworkers, group home parents, and staff of residential placements;
• Not have a personal or professional interest that conflicts with the interest of the child whom he or she represents; and,
• Have the knowledge and skills that ensure adequate representation of the child.
Notably, a person otherwise qualified to be a surrogate parent is not an employee of the agency solely because he or she is paid by the agency to serve as a surrogate parent. In the case of a child who is an unaccompanied homeless youth, staff of emergency shelters, transitional shelters, independent living programs, and street outreach programs may be appointed as temporary surrogate parents (even if that person is an employee of an agency involved in the care of education of the youth) until a surrogate parent can be appointed that meets all of the requirements described above. The surrogate parent assigned to a child may represent that child in all matters relating to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child, and the provision of FAPE to the child. While not directive, some additional qualifications for a surrogate parent may include being a resident of Pennsylvania or residing in close enough proximity to the LEA to assure that he or she will be available to make educational decisions for the child and being at least 18 years old. In addition, because a surrogate parent must have knowledge and skills to ensure adequate representation of a child, the LEA must provide training to surrogate parents