Surrogate Parent Program

Purpose of the Program

Federal law establishes the right to a free and appropriate public education for all children with disabilities. To ensure that this right is realized for all children, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to ensure the appointment of a legally authorized decision-maker for children with disabilities whose parents are unknown, cannot be located, have had their parental rights legally terminated or are unaccompanied homeless youth. Accordingly, the LEA must recruit, train and assign volunteer surrogate parents to represent these children in the special education process. In Bucks County this service is coordinated for LEAs by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit Surrogate Parent Program Coordinator.

When do you need a Surrogate Parent?

  • When the child’s parent or guardian cannot be located and there is documentation that the parent’s whereabouts are unknown or that they are unavailable. Documentation of “reasonable efforts” to locate the child’s parents are required, which includes activities such as documented telephone calls, letters, certified letters with return receipts, and visits to the parents last known address. 
  • When there is a “termination of parental rights.” A court of competent jurisdiction has taken away the parent’s rights to make any decisions concerning the child’s education and there is no foster parent, guardian, or other individual acting in the place of a parent with whom the child lives. Documentation may include a court order or letter from a County Children and Youth Agency.
  • When a child is an unaccompanied homeless youth as defined in the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance. In the case of a child who is an “unaccompanied homeless youth”, the staff of an emergency shelter, transitional shelter, independent living program, or street outreach program may be appointed as a “temporary surrogate parent” (even if that person is an employee of an agency involved in the care or education of the youth) until such time as a surrogate parent who meets the requirements of an IDEA parent can be appointed.    

 A Surrogate Parent is appointed only when there is no one else to serve in this role automatically such as a foster parent, an individual with whom the child lives who is acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a court–appointment education maker.

Who can be a Surrogate Parent?

Any person who volunteers their service and can demonstrate the following:

  • they are of good character 
  • they are at least 18 years of age
  • they possess reasonable abilities to make decisions concerning the child’s educational needs and/or are willing to participate in a training on the rights and responsibilities of being a surrogate parent
  • they are committed to learn about a student’s educational needs and the special education system
  • they are able and available to attend meetings to discuss the child’s educational program
  • they have no conflict of interest; may not be an employee of a public agency which is involved in or provides for the education or care of the child
For additional information, please contact:
Caryn Kadel, BCIU Interagency Coordinator, Surrogate Parent Program Coordinator
215-348-2940 x 1102   ckadel@bucksiu.org  

Surrogate Parent Volunteer Application

Surrogate Parent District Referral Form    

CLOSE