Editor’s note: Nancy Chillag (pictured), author of this article, practices law in Menlo Park.
“Do you think a school emergency card is enough to protect your kids if something happens to you during school hours?” is a question I ask parents attending my workshop “9 Easy Steps To Make Sure Your Kids Are Protected If The Unthinkable Happens To You.” The majority of the room raise their hand yes. A few parents are undecided. Yet from a legal standpoint, all of them are wrong.
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 your kid up if they are sick, not take short-term custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident.
For this reason, we recommend that parents create an emergency plan prior to going to back to school so there is no confusion or legal headaches should tragedy strike. 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 until the surviving 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.
Creating a back-to-school emergency plan is so 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.
Photo by Linda Hubbard Gulker