Volunteers needed to advocate for disabled, foster children

Some of the most vulnerable children — children in the foster care system with disabilities — need someone to make sure they get necessary services to excel in school. A 6-year-old program is providing that support but needs more volunteers to meet the growing demand for children who have no one else to help them in local schools. Sponsored by the nonprofit Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the Educational Surrogate Parent Program trains volunteers to serve as student advocates during school meetings and for special education issues.

Although the next formal three-hour training session will be in the fall, people can sign up for instruction about the program at any time. No experience is necessary — only a desire to help foster children. Training and support will be provided to Educational Surrogate Parent Program 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 Legal Aid Center at surrogates@lacsn.org or 702-386-1446.

Eighty volunteers helped more than 130 students last year, but there is a constant demand. There are hundreds of children in foster care 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,” Buckley said. “This program was created to address a gap in educational services available to children in foster care. There is still a failure to evaluate children or develop an appropriate education plan for children who are diagnosed with behavioral, learning and physical disabilities.”

A majority of educational surrogate parents’ time is spent ensuring their students are eligible for special education services and making sure students’ educational plans are appropriate and being followed by schools. Educational surrogate parents often write letters, make phone calls, and attend school-related meetings on behalf of their children. Volunteers can expect a time commitment averaging 25 hours per school year.