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Guardianships give adults a legal avenue by which to take care of children whose parents are unable to take care of the children themselves. In some situations, a biological parent may abuse drugs or alcohol or otherwise be unfit to act as parents.

As in an adoption, in a guardianship, the court awards legal custody of a child to someone other than the child’s parents. The guardian lives with the child and is responsible for his or her health care, education, and social services, such as after-school programs, or in the case of disabled children, regional centers for learning disabilities.

The parents are still financially responsible to provide child support; however, if unable to do so, the guardian may support the child or can apply for financial assistance through welfare, foster care, or other help agencies.

Unlike in an adoption, in a guardianship, a child is still related to his or her birth parents, and the court can allow visitation to the parents if appropriate. A guardianship can last until the child is 18 years old or until the court ends the guardianship, assigns a different guardian, or awards custody to the parents.

Guardianships aren’t limited to relatives; friends or people who know the child can also be selected as guardians.

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