Jimmy is a 14-year-old boy diagnosed with autism who has been in the foster care system since he was 8. His mother left him with a neighbor and never returned, and his father is unknown. In the past year alone, Jimmy has had six different foster placements. With each move, he is enrolled at a new school by new caregivers, and has to get used to new environments, teachers, classes and friends. Adjusting to new things is very hard for him as he doesn’t have the same coping or communication skills as others his age. When overwhelmed, he rocks back and forth and sings to himself to calm down. Normally, Jimmy’s parents would share his medical condition and subsequent behavior with the school. However, without anyone consistent in his life, there is no one to relay this information and what he needs to do to feel safe.
Children in the foster care system with disabilities – children like Jimmy – need someone to make sure they don’t get lost in a large school system like the Clark County School District. A six-year-old program is providing that support but needs more volunteers to meet the growing demand for advocates for these children. Sponsored by the nonprofit Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the Educational Surrogate Parent Program trains volunteers to serve as parents for children with disabilities in the foster care system. These Educational Surrogate Parents guarantee that someone is there to ensure educational consistency and support for these students as they navigate both the Clark County School District and foster care.
Interested volunteers are invited to attend an orientation/training meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Room 105 of Boyd Hall at the Boyd School of Law, UNLV, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154. No experience is necessary to become an Educational Surrogate Parent – only a desire to be an advocate for foster children. Training and support will be provided to volunteers throughout the life of their assigned case. Under federal law, employees of the school district and social workers are prohibited from volunteering. For more information or to attend the training, contact the Legal Aid Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702/386-1070, ext. 1446.
Eighty volunteers helped more than 130 students last year, but Educational Surrogate Parents are constantly needed. There are hundreds of children in the foster care system with disabilities in the Clark County School District and more enter the system all the time, according to Barbara Buckley, executive director of Legal Aid Center which runs the Educational Surrogate Parent Program through its Children’s Attorneys Project.
“We have found over the years that having an Educational Surrogate Parent is a critical piece of the education puzzle for children in foster care to be successful,” said Buckley. “Our volunteers keep in contact with their kids’ schools ensuring appropriate school representatives know about particular issues and needs, provide the necessary educational support, and are aware someone will be there to prevent children from slipping through the cracks. Educational Surrogate Parents truly make a difference in the lives of their children.”
Volunteers will learn advocacy skills, school district procedures, how to use the law to support children with disabilities, and also how to support children in foster care. Experienced Educational Surrogate Parents will attend the sessions and share their experiences.
A majority of Educational Surrogate Parents’ time is spent ensuring their children have appropriate educational plans and that schools are following them. Volunteers often write letters and emails, make phone calls, and attend school-related meetings on behalf of their children. The time commitment averages 25 hours per school year.
About Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada
Established in 1958, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada is a private, nonprofit, 501(c) (3) organization that ensures equal access to justice through free legal advice and representation for those who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Service areas include domestic violence, child abuse, consumer fraud and social security. Free classes are offered in bankruptcy, divorce, custody, small claims, guardianship and foreclosure. Funding is provided through private donations, government grants and pro bono hours donated by local attorneys. Please visit www.lacsn.org for more information or to make a donation.
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