Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent Program

Members of the Educational Advocate Program stand on the stairway outside the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

An Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent is appointed by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to make educational decisions for students aged 3 to 22 who have (or are suspected of having) disabilities, and who are in the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and whose parents are unable to act on their behalf.  

An Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent is available to all students who are placed in the care of DCYF and have court filings of abuse, neglect or dependency. Some students who are found wayward/delinquent are also eligible if they are placed outside of their home and their parents are not able to serve in this role. A federal consent order determines eligibility for the program.  

The referral process to get an Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent begins with the student’s DCYF worker submitting a written referral to DCYF’s educational resource coordinator. The coordinator determines whether the student is eligible and sends the referral to RIDE, which confirms that the student is eligible and appoints the advocate/surrogate.  

The role of an Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent

  • Attend all IEP and Evaluation Team, 504 Team, disciplinary/manifestation and other school meetings. 
  • Request and review school records. 
  • Refer students for evaluation and initiates the IEP process when appropriate. 
  • Give consent for educational testing, educational plans and educational placements.
  • Collaborate with teachers, school administrators, special education directors and other educators about students’ progress. 
  • Communicate with DCYF workers, CASA attorneys and others about students’ needs and planning. 
  • Seek information to stay current with best practices in education, child welfare and mental health. 
  • Participate in best interest conferences per federal Every Student Shall Succeed (ESSA) law when students move or change foster placements. 
  • Educational advocates/surrogate parents cannot drive students to or from school.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is the responsibility of the DCYF worker to ensure that a youth is enrolled in school. Usually, the worker assigns that task to foster parents or group home/shelter staff.  

DCYF provides the student identification card and immunization verification to the person enrolling the student. Other school records are not necessary for enrollment, although they are helpful.

A student with a DCYF identification card may not be denied admission to a public school. Verification of immunizations should be provided by the sending school within 10 days.

Only a parent/guardian or Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent is authorized to sign special education forms, consent to evaluations, etc. Foster parents are not authorized to sign unless they have been appointed to act as the Educational Advocate/Surrogate Parent. DCYF workers and group home staff are never authorized to sign any special education paperwork.

When medical releases or consent for provision of medical services are necessary, the DCYF worker must obtain consent from the parent or legal guardian.