Knowing the Difference Between Legal Guardianship and Adoption

Does America’s Kids Belong  support guardianship?  Absolutely. AKB promotes permanency for a child through any method that is best for the youth.  Permanency options include reunification, guardianship, and adoption.  AKB does not have the authority to make the decisions for a child’s future and recognizes that what is best for one youth, is not what may be best for the next. Our goal is to support permanency through videos that display a child’s personality and are proven to help with recruitment.

For most of the children on our I Belong Project page, termination of parental rights has already happened by the courts and their biological parents no longer have any legal rights to the child(ren).

Needs and situations vary based on the specific circumstances of the case and the youth’s team will decide what is best for the child based on all the complexities behind the scenes.  Some youth choose not to be adopted and guardianship seems less formal to them.   In contrast, some don’t feel guardianship feels “permanent” and they would prefer to be adopted. 

What is the difference between guardianship and adoption?

What differentiates a guardianship from an adoption is that a guardianship situation does not need to terminate a child’s legal relationship to his or her parents.  Adoption severs the previous legal parent-child relationship and creates a new legal parent-child relationship between the child and adoptive parent (however, most often those ties have already been severed by the termination of parental rights). They both meet the same goal: to find a solid, safe, stable environment for the youth. They are both legal processes and in both situations, the adults are responsible for caring for the child/youth and meeting their needs. 

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, guardianship can be particularly suited to the permanency needs of an older child under the following circumstances:

  • The child has been in a stable placement with the caregiver for a period of time.
  • The child is unwilling to be adopted.
  • Parental rights cannot be terminated.
  • The child continues to benefit from the relationship with the birth family.
  • The caregiver is able and willing to provide a permanent home for the child but is unwilling or unable to adopt the child.

Reunification, guardianship, and adoption all have their places in these complex situations.  Yes, reunification is best when it’s safe and viable.  When that is not an option, guardianship and adoption would both be options and we cannot put a blanket statement over which one is better for every situation. 

Our role at AKB begins and ends with filming these children and sharing their stories.  The rest is up to the child’s team. 

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