Becoming a guardian can be a wonderful way to create permanency for a child or youth. Children flourish and thrive when they feel part of a safe, stable, and loving family. Guardianship arrangements can often support a child’s connection to their culture and heritage.

We’ve broken down the essential steps to help prepare you for what’s ahead.

What is guardianship?

Guardianship is a legal relationship between a child or youth and an adult who raises them. By default, parents are a child’s guardians.

Guardianship is something that can happen unexpectedly and can come with heightened emotions and a sense of urgency to act. The Belonging Network can help you on your journey to becoming a guardian. Welcoming home a child means navigating new family dynamics and sometimes an increased financial responsibility. It’s OK to wonder how you’ll make it all work – this is a big deal!

A guardian’s rights and responsibilities

Parental responsibilities 

As a guardian, you have the same responsibilities as a parent until the child turns 19. Becoming a guardian means that you are responsible for all the care, supervision, and day-to-day decisions for a child. 

Learn more about parental responsibilities with Legal Aid BC.

Birth parent rights

Grandparents and relatives often step into help when parents are absent or unable to raise their children.

Guardianship doesn’t necessarily mean the child’s birth parents have lost all their rights. In some cases, they may still have all their parental rights and responsibilities. Other times, when  it isn’t possible for one or both parents to remain a guardian, their rights are terminated by the courts. Even when this happens, the parent may continue to have contact and time with their child. Again, it depends on the situation.

As the specifics of guardianship can vary so much, we aren’t able to provide information for every scenario. It’s really important to make sure that you understand all the details of your unique situation and consult with a lawyer if you have any questions. You can also contact our Family Support team for free, confidential support or just a listening ear (but please note we cannot provide legal advice). 

Inheritance and estate rights

As a guardian, you’re granted guardianship of the child or youth’s estate. This doesn’t affect a child’s inheritance, however, as they will continue to have a claim to their parents’ estates. If the child or teen were to pass away, their legal parents would take over the estate.

As guardians, if you want to leave them a part of your own estate, you need to name them as a beneficiary in your will. 

Cultural considerations

Children and youth come from so many different backgrounds. It’s important to support their identity and keep them connected to their cultural community or heritage, especially if it’s different from yours. 

Becoming an Indigenous child’s guardian won’t affect their Indigenous status or rights. As their guardian, plan to nurture relationships with their community from the beginning. Your social worker or Indigenous Child and Family Service Agency should be able to help you with this.

Ways of becoming a guardian

Guardianship tends to happen unexpectedly, and isn’t usually a choice people seek out. You may become a guardian in a few ways.

By being named in a will

A child’s parents may name you as a guardian in a will. Sometimes, potential guardians may only find this out in the event of the child’s parents passing.

By applying through the courts

If you know a child who cannot be reunited with their parents and you have a connection with the family, experts encourage applying to a court for guardianship over the child under the Family Law Act first.

By court order

You may be ordered by the courts to care for the child temporarily under an Extended Family Program Agreement until the Ministry of Children and Family Development permanently transfers guardianship of the child to you, also known as a “permanent transfer of custody.”

There are two types of court orders that can lead to guardianship. Each one has unique considerations for potential guardians.

Financial help

Guardianship families may qualify for financial help, like tax benefits, monthly maintenance payments, and help with costs like counselling, medical care, dental care, and childcare. Others might unfortunately not qualify at all as it depends on many factors, including how you became a guardian, your financial status, and more. 

The Ministry of Children and Family Development offers some supports to guardians appointed by a court order. These same supports are not always available to guardians who instead apply to be one through the courts — the two are different processes.

Lawyers, financial professionals, and social workers can help you understand what your family could receive. We’d suggest consulting with them before signing any orders or agreements. The Parent Support Services Society of BC and Fairness for Children Raised by Relatives also has lots of information on benefits, subsidies, and other resources for families in a guardianship arrangement. 

Comparing guardianship and adoption

One of the biggest differences between a guardian and an adoptive parent is when your legal rights and responsibilities end. As a guardian, your legal responsibilities end on the child’s 19th birthday, though the emotional and family bond may not.

One important thing to note is that it’s not easy to adopt a child as their guardian. This is because when you adopt a child, the courts need to transfer parental rights and responsibilities to someone. If you’re already the guardian of a child, the courts would need to transfer the rights and responsibilities to you— which unfortunately isn’t legally possible.

You may apply to adopt a child that you’re a guardian of once they become an adult (see Adult adoption). But if your long-term goal is to adopt a child or youth while they’re still under 19, consult with a lawyer before entering into a guardianship agreement.  

Resources

Need more help? Here’s where we’d suggest going next.

Family Support team | Belonging Network
We’re here to listen, and we’re trained to help you make sense of things and connect you with the right information. Call our free, confidential line and get in touch with a member of our Family Support team.

Support groups | Facebook groups
Many find guardianship lonely, as it’s rare to know someone else in real life who has gone through the same time. But you are not alone. The Belonging Network has several active Facebook support groups for guardians at all stages of their journey, and we encourage you to connect with your community online.

Relatives Raising Relatives workshop | Belonging Network
Raising relatives often comes with unique challenges and just-as-unique solutions. Our online workshops offer guardians a place to openly discuss their feelings, learn strategies to deal with loss and trauma, and navigate family dynamics if your child is still connected with their parents.

Kinship Care Helpline | Parent Support Services Society of BC.
Offers information and advice by trained advocates to those raising a relative’s child, including guardians, at no cost. 

Homepage | Parent Support Services Society
Offers support with legal issues, and information on benefits and subsidies.

Homepage | Fairness for Children Raised by Relatives
Advocates for children who are being cared for by a relative, but would have otherwise ended up in foster care.

Parenting and guardianship | Legal Aid BC
Plain language legal information about parenting, guardianship and permanency arrangements.

Ministry of Children and Family Development | Province of BC
This ministry oversees guardianships involving a custody order, or a permanent transfer of custody.

Family Law Act | Province of BC
This act sets out the rules around applying to become the guardian of a child you know.

Child, Family, and Community Service Act | Province of BC
This act sets the rules for how courts appoint guardians through a court order.