A Life Changer for Children and Their Caregivers

Tuesday was the first day of school for thousands of Chicago Public School students. Imagine that you are caring for your grandchild because the child’s parents are not able to do so. You try to enroll your grandchild in school but the school refuses until you provide proof of guardianship. What is that? Where and how do you get it?

When parents are absent or unable to raise their children, grandparents are often the ones to step in. But until the grandparent becomes the legal guardian, they cannot secure medical care or public benefits for the children or enroll them in school.

This is where the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Minor Guardianship Assistance Desk comes in. In 1995, the CBF partnered with the Circuit Court to establish this Desk, the first in a network of court-based help desks the CBF has helped to establish over the past 25 years. The Minor Guardianship Courtroom was (and still is) a high volume courtroom where most people cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent them. When the Desk was launched, Court staff would help people prepare forms to obtain guardianship of a minor. The CBF later recruited volunteer attorneys to support Court staff who could not give legal advice and to provide free legal assistance to court patrons who had more complex cases.

In 2000, the CBF partnered with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS), a longstanding CBF grantee with expertise in family law and minor guardianship, to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Desk working closely with Court staff.

Today, the Minor Guardianship Assistance Desk helps over 6,300 people a year. This successful public/private partnership between the Court, the CBF and CVLS is critical to ensuring the Desk runs smoothly and that Court staff are able to provide high quality services and information to people who visit the Desk for help. The services provided by Court staff and CVLS help to ensure that people who want to file for guardianship of a minor are in the right venue, that guardianship is appropriate, and that the Court has all of the information necessary to make an informed decision. All of this helps the high-volume minor guardianship courtroom run more smoothly and efficiently. The thousands of people without lawyers who visit the Desk each year are better prepared when they appear in Court, and have the required paperwork to have their cases efficiently and promptly adjudicated. Additionally, they successfully navigate a guardianship process that is often critical to the safety and stability of vulnerable children in our community.