Juvenile Court Guardianship

Legal guardianship is a court order that says someone who is not the child’s parent is in charge of taking care of the child. Legal guardians have a lot of the same rights and responsibilities as parents. They can decide where the child lives and goes to school, and they can make decisions about the child’s health care.

Note: There are 2 kinds of guardianships in California. Most guardianship cases are in probate court. If the child in your case is NOT a dependent of the juvenile court, go to the Guardianship (Probate Court) section of the Self-Help Center.

Who are legal guardians?
A guardian does not have to be a relative of the child. Guardians can be:

  • Grandparents,
  • Sisters and brothers,
  • Aunts and uncles,
  • Other relatives,
  • Foster parents,
  • Friends of the family, or
  • Someone else who knows the child.

Guardians’ rights and responsibilities

  • Health care: As guardian, you can make medical decisions for the child. You can give permission for most medical and dental treatments, and for counseling or therapy.
    • But if there is no medical emergency, children over 14 can NOT have surgery unless they agree or you get permission from the court. Sometimes you also need permission from the court to give the child certain medicines.
  • Education: You can choose the child’s school and learning program. Pay attention to how the child does in school and meet with the teacher. If the child needs special education, work with the school to write an individualized education program (IEP). Click for more information about special education.
  • Social services: You can get help for the child from programs like:
  • Where the child lives: You can decide where the child lives. If you move to a different city in California, you have to tell the court in writing. If you want to move out of California, you have to get permission from the court. Different states have different laws about guardianship. Find out about guardianship laws in the state you want to move to.
  • Financial support: Even if there is a guardian, the parents must support their child financially. As guardian, you can choose to support the child by yourself, or if you want help, ask for welfare, foster care payments, or other help. Your county may try to get child support from the parents. Find out how guardians can get financial help.
  • Marriage: You and the court must give the child permission to get married if the child wants to get married before he or she is 18.
  • Armed forces: You can give permission for the child to join the armed forces if the child is younger than 18.
  • Driver’s license: You can give the child permission to apply for a driver’s license. You will have to pay for any damages if the child gets in an accident. You must get insurance to cover the child. If you change your mind later, you can sign a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to cancel the child’s license.
  • Child’s misconduct: Like a parent, you have to watch how the child behaves. You can be sued for damages if the child does something wrong. Talk to a lawyer if you are worried about this.
  • Other responsibilities: The judge can ask you to agree to other responsibilities. For example, the judge can set up visits for the child with the parents or sisters and brothers.

Read Caregivers and the Courts , which discusses juvenile dependency proceedings for caregivers and foster parents.

Financial help for guardians
There are different kinds of financial help a guardian can get:

  • Welfare: If you are related to the child, you can get welfare even if you do not need the money. You can also get welfare if you are not related to the child but you need financial help.
  • Foster care payments: Some guardians can get foster care payments. These pay more money than welfare.
  • Kin-GAP (Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment Program): You can get Kin-GAP if you are related to a child in a dependency case. This pays the same amount of money as foster care payments.
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income): If the child has a disability, he or she may be able to get SSI or state disability benefits. You can use this money to take care of the child.
  • Medi-Cal: Guardians can get Medi-Cal for the child and for themselves if they are financially needy and are related to the child.

Ask the social worker what help you can get. If you want to adopt the child and the child has special needs, ask about the Adoption Assistance Program.

Note: If the child gets welfare, foster care payments, or Kin-GAP, your county may try to get child support from the parents.

Becoming a guardian for a child in juvenile dependency court

  1. Think about the responsibilities you will have
    If you decide to be a guardian:
    • Talk to the social worker in charge,
      OR
    • Write a letter to the juvenile court judge. The letter should say:
      • Your name and address,
      • Your relationship with the child,
      • How long you have known the child, and
      • Why you want to be the child’s guardian.
  2. The court will make a decision
    The court’s decision will depend on what the child’s case is about, what the child needs, and how far along the case is. For example:
    • If someone wants to be a guardian right away, the child may not need to have a juvenile court case.
    • If the parents agree, the judge can choose a guardian and dismiss the case.
    • After a child is taken away from the parents, there are hearings at least every 6 months while the court is involved. Sometimes the court will choose a guardian at one of these hearings. The social worker tells the court what they think is best for the child.
  3. If the judge chooses you as guardian
    You will get a copy of the court order appointing you as guardian after the hearing. You will need to:
    • Go to the court clerk to get certified Letters of Guardianship (Juvenile) (Form JV-330). The Letters of Guardianship are your proof that you are the child’s guardian.
    • Make copies of the Letters of Guardianship and keep the original in a safe place.
    • Take the Letters of Guardianship with you to get medical care, sign the child up for school, etc.
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