Guardianship Services for Minors provide assessment, information, and service planning to birth parents, children, and prospective guardians to determine if legal guardianship is a viable permanency option. Guardianship services also provide the child and their guardian with referrals, support, and other post-placement services to maintain the court-appointed placement.
Note: The term “minor” refers to an individual who has not reached the age of majority. The age of majority will vary from state to state and can range from 18 to 25 years of age depending on identified special needs. “Minor” may be substituted by the term “child” or “youth” throughout the section. The term “birth parents” refers to the child’s biological parents. “Prospective guardian” refers to any adult seeking to become the legal, long-term, guardian of the minor, and the term “guardian” refers to an individual who has been granted legal custody of the minor.
Note: When the case involves an Indian child, the organization should engage and collaborate with the child’s tribe throughout the provision of guardianship services as outlined in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which governs state proceedings involving Indian children. This requires the inclusion of tribal representatives throughout all aspects of service delivery, including, but not limited to, permanency planning, assessment, service planning, and case closing. Additional opportunities for inclusion are identified in the standards. While collaboration with federally recognized tribes is required by ICWA, organizations should reach out to tribal representatives in cases involving federally non-recognized tribes as well, as their involvement in the case will improve access to culturally-relevant resources and help establish permanency through a heightened sense of belonging and connectivity to the child’s extended family, clan, or tribe.
While local Indian organizations are not granted the same rights as federally recognized tribes under the Indian Child Welfare Act, there may be circumstances under which their involvement is necessary and appropriate. These organizations can facilitate the child’s connection to his or her tribe, inform the family and the organization of services available to the child, act as an advocate for the Indian child and his or her family, and provide ongoing support and information. This involvement is particularly important when the child’s tribe does not have the infrastructure to participate formally in the case or when the tribe is geographically distant from the child’s home and their participation is somewhat limited.
Research Note: Guardianship refers to the transfer of legal responsibility for a minor from the state or tribe to a private caregiver or guardian. Guardianship is often appointed by the tribal or state juvenile or probate court and can include responsibility for the child, their estate, or both. Generally, the guardian has custody of the child, but parental rights have not been terminated. There are a variety of cultural, social, and ethical circumstances where guardianship may be the most appropriate option if family reunification has been ruled out including: when terminating parental rights goes against cultural norms; when adolescents do not wish to be adopted; or when a parent’s physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities prevent him or her from being a permanent caregiver, but the termination of parental rights is unjustifiable.
In some states and tribes, guardianship is considered as a way to prevent the need for foster care placement altogether. In these cases, caregivers are granted legal custody without the child ever having been in custody of the state or tribe.