Options other than a guardianship
A guardianship is not always needed. There are simpler, less formal options that will give you the legal ability to care for someone else’s child. You might also be able to care for some of a child's needs if you can't get a hold of the parents. You don't have to go to court for these options. But they're not right for every situation. Read them carefully.
Other legal options
Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit: You sign a form to get the authority to enroll the child in school and get medical care
If the child lives with you in California, you can sign a Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit. Parents do not need to sign the form, but they can cancel it at any time.
This form lets you enroll the child in school and consent to medical care related to school. For example, you can consent to vaccinations or physical exams. If you're the child's relative, you can also make medical care decisions outside of the school context. But someone not related to the child can only consent to medical care related to school. The Caregiver's Authorization Affdavit form lists who qualifies as a child's relative.
You must sign a new Caregiver's Affidavit each year. And it's not valid if the child no longer lives with you. You must let the school and health care provider know if the child moves out of your home.
Written Child Care Agreement: You and the parents sign papers giving you rights
If you’re concerned that a service provider won’t accept a Caregiver’s Authorization Affidavit because it’s not signed by the child’s parent, there’s another option. Parents can sign a written agreement (technically called a “power of attorney”) giving you the authority to care for their child if they know they will not be able to take care of the child temporarily. For example, if the parents will be away for work, in jail, or getting medical treatment. The parents may want you to sign the form, too, to make sure you accept the duty to care for their children.
In this agreement, a parent can give you the right to make any decision for the child that a guardian would be able to make under the law. The agreement must list each decision you are authorized to make in writing. You will not have the right to make any decision that is not listed. For example, the parent might want to give you the right to make decisions about the child's medical care, and education, but not the right to change the child’s residence or consent to the child’s marriage.
This agreement can give you rights to care for the child, but it will not give you legal custody over the child. The parents will keep legal custody and all their rights to make decisions about the child’s life, too. Only a court order, like a guardianship, can take legal custody from a parent and give it to another person. In addition, a parent can cancel this agreement or power of attorney at any time.
This agreement or power of attorney is not a court form, but you may be able to find a form online. Even though it might look simple, there are quite a few technical requirements for completing a valid power of attorney. It’s a good idea for you and the parents to consult a lawyer. And even if you do everything right, it’s possible that a service provider will refuse to recognize your authority. A power of attorney for child care is unusual, and providers may not be familiar with it.
When these options might not be right
You're worried about the child's safety if the parent cancels your rights.
Parents can cancel these authorizations at any time, and you will no longer have any rights. In a guardianship, parents must ask a judge to end a guardianship.
You want to add the child to your health insurance.
Most insurance companies will not add someone else's child to your insurance policy unless there's a court order (like a guardianship). Make sure you have the child's health insurance information.
You decide it's easier to have a court order that others have to follow.
Schools and medical facilities are required by law to accept the Caregiver’s Authorization Affidavit. But sometimes staff aren't familiar with them and may be hesitant to accept them. You may need to educate staff about them. Some people find it easier to have a legal guardianship since it is an official court order.