“Do you think a school emergency card is enough to protect your kids if something happens to you during school hours?” This is a question I often ask parents who attend my free workshops on legal planning for minor children. Surprisingly, the majority of the room raises their hand, yes. A few parents are undecided. Yet from a legal standpoint, all of them are wrong.
Dangers of Relying On The School Emergency Card
Contrary to popular belief, a school emergency card will not protect your children from spending time in the hands of social services if something tragic happens to you. The emergency card only gives named contacts permission to pick up your kids if they are sick, not take short-term custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident.
Even if you are confident that friends or family members would step up to the task, there is still a possibility that social services will get involved in your child’s care. That’s simply because police and emergency personnel cannot leave your kids with just anyone, and the state will be forced to screen guardians and monitor your child’s placement in the absence of clear instructions from you.
Protect Your Kids in 3 Easy Steps
I always recommend that parents create an emergency plan so that there is no confusion or legal headaches should a tragedy strike during school hours. This may include the unexpected death or incapacity of mom or dad—or a tragedy that happens on school grounds in which your child needs to leave as soon as possible with an authorized guardian. This plan can be created in three easy steps:
1. Legally name short-term guardians for your kids: Short-term guardians are the people who have legal permission to care for your child until the surviving parent or long-term guardian can arrive. This should ultimately be someone who lives close by and one who will comfort your children in an emergency.
2. Make sure your short-term guardians match those named on the school emergency card: In addition to listing friends and neighbors who can pick your child up from school if he or she gets sick, it’s equally important to list the full contact information of your short-term guardians for true emergencies. Without this information, your children could be placed temporarily in the custody of social services (…or in the case of a school tragedy, get left unnecessarily long in the care of the school!) until a parent or legal guardian can arrive.
3. Make sure the babysitter knows what to do if you don’t return home: It’s extremely important that parents give their babysitters detailed instructions on what to do and who to call if they don’t return home. In most cases, a babysitter will panic and turn to the police for help, again opening the door for social services to temporarily take custody of your kids until a long-term care provider can arrive.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Creating a school emergency plan is easy — and something that will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or killed during school hours. The first few hours after an emergency are the most painful for a child, so it’s important for parents to make sure their kids spend that time with people they love and trust. Follow these three easy steps, and you will have the peace of mind knowing that your kids will be cared for by the people you want—no matter what happens.
Steve Greenwood, Esq.