Surrogate Parents

Congress recognized the importance of active parents’ involvement in planning their children’s educational programs, monitoring progress, and challenging inappropriate decisions. This child advocate role is usually filled by parents.

However, the laws give an alternative if the parents of a child with a disability are unknown or completely unavailable or if the child is a ward of the state.

Surrogate parents fill the parental role in these situations. 

adult woman helping youth with papers

Surrogate parents make a difference!

What is a Surrogate Parent?

Surrogate parent means a person appointed by a school district to represent a child with a disability who has or may need special education services.  This person may not be receiving public funds to educate or care for the child.  A Surrogate Parent is a very unique volunteer position, and comes with specific rights, responsibilities, and limitations associated with the role.

Students eligible for a Special Education Surrogate Parent may reside in a variety of living
situations including residential schools, group homes, hospitals or pediatric nursing homes, state
institutions, diagnostic placements, shelters and foster homes.

Under both federal and state special education regulations, foster parents have the authority to
act as special education decision-makers without being appointed as a Surrogate Parent.  Foster
parents may decline the right to make special education decisions, and in these instances a Surrogate Parent would be appointed.

Who would need a Surrogate Parent?

A surrogate parent is needed for students under the age of 18 receiving special education services, or have been referred for an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services, AND they fall into one of the following categories:

  • No parent (as defined by the IDEA) can be identified;
  • The school district (local education agency or LEA), after reasonable efforts, cannot locate a parent;
  • The student is a ward of the State; or
  • The student is an unaccompanied, homeless youth as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(6)).


It is important to note:  The LEA cannot appoint a surrogate parent when the biological parent is available but chooses not to participate.

How can I become a Surrogate Parent?

Surrogate parents must be assigned by the Local Education Agency (LEA) which is the school district.

Each district or LEA must:

  • Have a method for determining whether a student needs a surrogate parent;
  • Have a method for assigning surrogate parents prepared to serve in that role;
  • Maintain a list of eligible persons to serve as surrogate parents; and
  • Provide annual training to surrogate parents.


You can reach out to your local school and offer to get trained in the event they need a Surrogate Parent!   Once the important first step has been made (agreeing to help a child by taking the role of surrogate parent) you will have a chance to read about the child’s education background and disability. You will also have an opportunity to talk with others who work with the child who may share information with you. As your experience and knowledge increase, your confidence will not be an issue.

The great thing is that you will receive all of the training you need, at no cost to you! 

Once you are appointed to serve as surrogate parent for a child in your care, you are in a unique position to be aware of the child’s likes and dislikes, abilities and needs, and learning style. However, if you do not know the child you have been appointed to represent, you may need to take some time learning about the child and his or her educational history.

How can the OPC help Surrogate Parents?

As a Surrogate Parent you have the same rights and authority of a parent as outlined in the Federal regulations (IDEA 2004).

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Access to all regular and special education records of the student, including all progress reports and report cards.


The right to:

  • Provide written permission for special education evaluations.
  • Review all education evaluations.
  • Attend all special education Team meetings.
  • Request a Team meeting when there are concerns or changes regarding your student’s academic, social or emotional status.
  • Observe your student in his or her school setting to assist in determining the appropriate educational supports and placement(s).
  • View educational placements that are being considered.
  • Review and accept or reject the proposed Individualized Education Program (IEP), in whole or in part, within the 30-day time frame.
  • File a complaint if you feel that the education laws or regulations, or a student’s rights are violated.
  • Pursue the appeals process, if necessary.


The OPC staff can help you just like we help ALL other parents!  

  • One on one individual assistance
  • Attendance at meetings, on a case-by-case basis
  • Document review and assistance


Reach out and see how else we can help you!  Did you know that our services are all FREE???


Federal Regulations Implementing IDEA (issued 8/14/06; in effect 10/13/06)

34 C.F.R. § 300.519 Surrogate Parents.

(a) General. Each public agency must ensure that the rights of a child are protected when-

(1) No parent (as defined in Sec. 300.30) can be identified;
(2) The public agency, after reasonable efforts, cannot locate a parent;
(3) The child is a ward of the State under the laws of that State; or
(4) The child is an unaccompanied homeless youth as defined in section 725(6) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(6)).

(b) Duties of public agency. The duties of a public agency under paragraph (a) of this section include the assignment of an individual to act as a surrogate for the parents. This must include a method–

(1) For determining whether a child needs a surrogate parent; and
(2) For assigning a surrogate parent to the child.

(c) Wards of the State. In the case of a child who is a ward of the State, the surrogate parent alternatively may be appointed by the judge overseeing the child’s case, provided that the surrogate meets the requirements in
paragraphs (d)(2)(i) and (e) of this section.

(d) Criteria for selection of surrogate parents.

(1) The public agency may select a surrogate parent in any way permitted under State law.
(2) Public agencies must ensure that a person selected as a surrogate parent–

(i) Is not an employee of the SEA, the LEA, or any other agency that is involved in the
education or care of the child;
(ii) Has no personal or professional interest that conflicts with the interest of the child the
surrogate parent represents; and
(iii) Has knowledge and skills that ensure adequate representation of the child.

(e) Non-employee requirement; compensation. A person otherwise qualified to be a surrogate parent under paragraph (d) of this section is not an employee of the agency solely because he or she is paid by the agency to serve as a surrogate parent.

(f) Unaccompanied homeless youth. In the case of a child who is an unaccompanied homeless youth, appropriate staff of emergency shelters, transitional shelters, independent living programs, and street outreach programs may
be appointed as temporary surrogate parents without regard to paragraph (d)(2)(i) of this section, until a surrogate parent can be appointed that meets all of the requirements of paragraph (d) of this section.

(g) Surrogate parent responsibilities. The surrogate parent may represent the child in all matters relating to–

(1) The identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child; and
(2) The provision of FAPE to the child.

(h) SEA responsibility. The SEA must make reasonable efforts to ensure the assignment of a surrogate parent not more than 30 days after a public agency determines that the child needs a surrogate parent.
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1415(b)(2))


This guidance is intended to provide a general overview of surrogate parents, when they are needed, and how to ensure they are able to represent the student’s educational interest as well as their responsibilities as the “parent.” Surrogate parents must be assigned by the Local Education Agency (LEA) to ensure that the rights of the student are protected and services meet the educational needs of the student in the Least Restrictive Environment. For all purposes, the surrogate parent IS the student’s parent and should be considered a full member of the student’s team.

OK State Advisory Committee

The Independent Futures that Work! project is a joint effort of the Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and

Get Involved!

Are you trying to find a way to get involved in special education decisions and policy making? You have found a good starting point! The

Surrogate Parents

Congress recognized the importance of active parents’ involvement in planning their children’s educational programs, monitoring progress, and challenging inappropriate decisions. This child advocate role is