Minor Guardianship Innovation Project

VPRC and K.I.N.K.A.N. Vermont (Kinship Information & Navigation/Kinship Advocacy Network) partnered in 2012-2013 in a grant funded project to provide legal education and support services to families in Addison and Chittenden counties considering minor guardianship.

In order to assist the families VPRC and K.I.N.K.A.N. Vermont provided pre-hearing consultations for the families who had filed for minor guardianship, or contemplated filing, in Addison or Chittenden Counties. Typically, information and navigation assistance for those involved with custodial minor guardianships are available after a legal guardianship is awarded.

Pre-hearing consultation and navigation assistance. The Minor Guardianship Innovation Project offered an opportunity to consult with interested parties before the minor guardianship court hearing to discuss the rights, roles, and responsibilities of each party. Information was provided about how custodial minor guardianship functions, as well as the support and services that are available in Vermont.

Scope of Project. Pilot group consisted of 11 families with 16 involved children who had
already filed for custodial minor guardianship or were contemplating filing. The staff provided legal education, financial and social supports that were strength based and multigenerational in scope to help the families make informed decisions and to provide opportunities for supports to carry out their decisions.

Improved Outcomes. The understanding of family members about their legal options improved significantly when provided in a family friendly, non-adversarial fashion. Staying neutral with the kinship triad was key to ongoing support requests because supports, not adversarial tactics, were provided. Supports are most helpful when the whole family can hear the same information and can work together to decide whether MG would be the best approach and what supports will be needed while the MG is in effect.

Summary of Findings

  • Substance Abuse and mental health issues were drove the minor guardianship petitions in all of the pilot study cases. Homelessness was also a major factor – contributing to 9 of the 11 cases.
  • Parental consents are not always filed with petitions despite “no parent objects” being listed as the legal grounds in the petition; the petitions are being accepted nevertheless.
  • The parents uniformly did not understand what their consent meant or the legal consequences of giving up guardianship of their children.
  • There was no predictable approach by DCF to using MG versus using conditional custody to family member via a CHINS petition in the Family Court.
  • No overall family plan was created. Most families are not ready at the pre-hearing stage to answer questions about:
    • How long the guardianship is intended to last;
    • Plan for parent/child contact;
    • Plan for what needs to happen for MG to end;
    • What supports needed for the MG to end;
    • How major decisions about children are going to be made.
    • Judge in one case used project staff to work out issues in first 60 days.