DFCS wants my relative to have permanent guardianship of my child. What is that?

April 12, 2017

Sometimes, depending on the age of the child, the circumstances of a family trying to regain custody from the State (DFCS) and other factors, a “permanent guardianship” may be proposed in lieu of terminating parental rights and adoption.  A Permanent Guardianship is when someone gets custody of a child from juvenile court until the child turns 18 (or is legally emancipated earlier).  The parents do not lose or have to give up parental rights, but may have to pay child support.  Visitation would be whatever the Permanent Guardianship order states, and, if the order is silent, would be up to the Permanent Guardian.  Permanent Guardianship gives the parent the opportunity to maintain parental contact, and provide child support and other family connections, while providing the child with permanency. The Permanent Guardian is basically the child’s stand-in parent until the child is considered an adult under Georgia law and is legally required to provide for the child’s physical, spiritual, and mental needs through age 18 and has the right to register the child for school, obtain medical care, and provide legal consent when needed.  Under the juvenile code, a petition for permanent guardianship must recite, among other things, that reasonable efforts to reunite the child with her parent(s) would be detrimental to her, termination of parental rights is not in her best interests and the proposed guardian can provide a safe and permanent home for the child.  Children 14 and over have a say in who is to become their Permanent Guardian, so long as a permanent guardianship is in the child’s best interests and the proposed guardian chosen by the child is the most appropriate person, taking into consideration her best interests.

Once a child has a Permanent Guardian, her DFCS case is closed and she is not in the custody of the State. Permanent Guardians may be entitled to public assistance such as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), food stamps and Medicaid. A permanent guardianship can be modified, vacated or revoked by showing one of two things by clear and convincing evidence:  (1) a material change in the circumstances of the child or in the guardian and (2) modification, vacation or revocation of the guardianship and appointment of a new guardian is in the child’s best interests.  “Clear and convincing evidence” is a higher burden of proof than a preponderance of the evidence and lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.