News Articles

Three Documents That Might Save Your Children in an Emergency

Immigrant family in their home
By Jim Sliney Jr.

Families have few legal choices when it comes to who will care for or what will happen to their children in an emergency - and all of them are scary. The idea of going to family court and signing away custody of one’s children is a terrible decision to have to make. Good news - there are less frightening options.

“We asked the question,” said Raluca Oncioiu, Director of Immigration Legal Services of Catholic Charities Community Services, “what other arrangements are there for families, short of going to family court?”

Catholic Charities of New York put together a ‘Know Your Rights’ phone bank in cooperation with Univision Noticias 41, to help immigrants understand what legal options are at their disposal regarding Guardianship for their children. Part of what came out of that event are two very important forms people should know about. These are New York State specific:

  1. Designation of person in parental relationship: This establishes an adult who can assist with educational and medical decisions for a child. For example, take a child to school or the doctor, provide consent for medical procedures. In the event of unexpected detention or deportation, this is a weak tool and will not prevent a child from being put into the hands of the state. This does not require appearing in court.
  2. Standby Guardianship: This form sets up an official stand-by-guardian figure for future care. It gives legal, parental-level authority for 60 days, during which time the Guardian must go to family court to get the guardianship extended beyond the 60 days. Court appearance is not required unless people are extending Standby Guardianship into full Guardianship before the end of the 60-day window. In the event of unexpected detention or deportation, this is a strong tool that can keep a child in the care of the appointed guardian for 60-days.

In both cases the status granted by these forms do not take effect unless there is a triggering event such as deportation or detention, so no one is signing away their children while they are still there to care for them themselves.

These forms were originally designed to help chronically or terminally ill parents grant authority to another adult to care for their children. Immigration and Legal Services is now using them to help new Americans protect their children in the event of sudden removal from the family, like happened in Mississippi.


There is another step that parents can take to protect the welfare of their children in the event of unexpected separation. That is the Vital Information form.

A vital information form should include:

Vital Contact information – home address, phone numbers and emails for

  • parents
  • guardians
  • family lawyer / accountant
  • next of kin
  • nanny or babysitter


Vital Services information – the address and contact information for the child’s

  • primary physician
  • dentist
  • school
  • church
  • day care
  • neighbor
  • local post office


Vital Documents – make sure these are in a secure place that they parent and guardian both know about

  • Birth certificate
  • Guardianship forms (like we talked about above)
  • Any contracts or signed documents for school, babysitter, day care, internet, etc


Home Operations checklist – What should someone know about how your house works.

  • Is there an extra set of keys kept with someone?
  • How to operate the television/media
  • Where and how does laundry get done
  • Maintenance service providers, like superintendent, doorman, plumber, electrician, cable providers etc.
  • Your vehicle & where you get fuel or service


Your Permissions and Rules – What are your kids allowed and not allowed to do? What is expected of them? Consistency is very important for young children.

  • Bedtime and bathing schedule
  • Kitchen privileges
  • Eating schedule
  • Church attendance
  • Junk food
  • Screen time


Pet care – there could be a lot to know

  • Feeding schedule
  • Clean up schedule
  • Where do you get food /supplies
  • The veterinary services
  • Pet sitters


Health and Safety – vital things you’ll need in case of an emergency, or to prevent one

  • Allergies
  • When should child NOT be left alone (e.g. bath time, potty time, playing outside)
  • Naptimes
  • How far are they allowed to wander from the home?
  • Fire / Police / EMT
  • Mental / emotional care: does the child have a favorite toy / TV show / food?


Raluca also suggested that families should use the resources provided by Catholic Charities Community Services rather than paying someone they don’t know to help them with legal services. “It isn’t always safe and it can be very costly. The unauthorized practice of law and notarios cheat vulnerable immigrants out of thousands of dollars.” Better if they call the New Americans Hotline, (1-800-566-7636) which is run by New York State and operated by Catholic Charities of New York. They can direct parents or families to vetted resources and get them to the services they need.

Even though bad things can happen to families, there are resources in place to help empower those families in the case of an emergency. Everyone should know about and use these resources.