Six young adults in the Los Angeles foster system filed this case against the California Department of Social Services, California Health and Human Services Agency, California Department of Health Care Services, Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Alliance for Children’s Rights, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and Public Counsel, is proud to join them.
The complaint alleges that county and state agencies are failing to fulfill their legal obligation to provide youth in the LA foster system ages sixteen to twenty-one (transition age foster youth) meaningful access to the essential housing and services to which they are legally entitled to.
Both before and after entering the foster system, a disproportionately high percentage of transition age foster youth have mental health conditions and other disabilities related to complex trauma, i.e., chronic, ongoing interpersonal trauma. Some are also young parents who, as they transition to adulthood, seek health, stability, and safety not only for themselves but for their families. The overwhelming majority of foster youth in Los Angeles County come from low-income Black and Latine communities.
Under federal and state law, the state and county must provide transition age foster youth with safe, stable, and continuous placements—including transition planning, housing, and developmental, educational, and medically necessary health and mental health services—to help them develop the skills and cultivate the relationships needed for independent living.
By unlawfully denying transition age foster youth appropriate placements and support services, Defendants have created a pipeline from the foster system to homelessness, heaping trauma on top of trauma and funneling these youth to the margins of society.
Without government safeguards in place, young adults transitioning out of the foster system struggle to find safe, affordable housing. They are more likely to drop out of school, suffer from mental health conditions and substance use disorders, experience unemployment, housing instability, and homelessness, and enter the criminal legal system. Roughly one in every five transition age foster youth in California report experiencing homelessness while in extended foster care.
Homelessness has devastating and enduring consequences for the safety and well-being of youth. Nationally, almost two-thirds of youth experiencing homelessness report being physically assaulted, robbed, sexually assaulted or raped, and threatened with a weapon.
This case was brought to ensure that LA youth transitioning out of the foster system and into adulthood have the resources, support, and services they are entitled to and need to be successful.
In the LA County Foster System
Erykah B., a 19-year-old young Black woman, spent most of her childhood cycling in and out of state custody and her mother’s care until her mother’s parental rights were terminated when Erykah was 9. While in state custody, Erykah experienced neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
Erykah has been in the extended foster system since 2022, but county and state officials has failed to provide her with safe and stable placements or the services she needs as she enters adulthood. Instead, this time has been marked by unstable housing and periods of homelessness. During one of those periods, Erykah and her girlfriend slept outside for two weeks. On another occasion, Erykah survived an attempted sexual assault. Foster system officials were aware of Erykah’s unhousing, yet they didn’t provide her with any emergency placement options to help her.
In 2022, Erykah interviewed for a Transitional Housing Placement Program for Nonminor Dependents (THPP-NMD) with little support. After being accepted into the program, officials failed to communicate her interest to the provider for several weeks, losing her spot.
Erykah has struggled with school and developing emotional management skills because of unaddressed childhood trauma. Despite her repeated requests for mental health services, government officials have failed to provide appropriate services and seem to blame her for the challenges she is facing.
Today, Erykah is in the cosmetology program at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. She dreams of completing college and opening a salon someday.
17-year-old Onyx G. is a young Black and Latina woman who has been in the system since she was 3. At 14, she was hospitalized for suicidal ideation and self-mutilation and has been hospitalized at least seventeen times at a psychiatric hospital.
She has cycled through family placement homes, restrictive group homes, and unsafe residential facilities where she was bullied and harassed by staff and her peers and endured sexual abuse. A roommate in one facility destroyed her electronic devices and left feces on her bed. In another placement, a staff member outed her sexuality to her peers. Earlier this year, she was forced into homelessness for 3-months to escape an unsafe and unsupportive environment after being sexually assaulted by her roommate. Foster system officials have not provided adequate mental health support to address the traumas she has experienced while under their custody. The limited therapy she has received has been inadequate, sporadic, and sometimes harmful.
As her 18th birthday approaches, several obstacles place Onyx at high risk for homelessness. Because of the system’s failure to provide appropriate transition planning—like independent living skills training—Onyx faces challenges that may disqualify her from programs that could help her once she ages out of the system.
Despite the trauma and instability she has undergone, Onyx is working towards completing her high school diploma while living in a facility placement before going on to college. She wishes to pursue a fashion career and is passionate about advocating for stable housing for youth in the foster system.
Rosie S. is a 20-year-old Latina and an expecting mother. She re-entered the foster system in 2022 after her grandmother kicked her out when she was 18. Rosie was homeless and couch-surfing with friends while her grandmother continued to receive her benefits. When Rosie re-entered the system, officials failed to offer her an appropriate placement and instead referred her to a homeless shelter.
Rosie was forced to navigate the system largely on her own, applying for programs and benefits without help. Her case worker failed to inform her if her applications were accepted, and in one instance failed to submit her application. After attempting to live with her grandmother once again, D.G. decided to move to Las Vegas, Nevada where a family friend allowed her to stay.
With the upcoming birth of her first child, she wishes to move back to Los Angeles near her community and support system, in a safe and stable place with her baby. The system has yet to find an appropriate placement for Rosie.
Jackson K., a 19-year-old Latino, has been in the foster system since 2007 after his biological mother went to prison. While living with his adoptive family for 12 years, his adoptive mother was the only person to become fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), his primary language. Jackson struggled to find support following his adoptive mother’s tragic death when he was 9-years old, especially since no one else in the family had learned ASL.
After his adoptive father forced him out of the house in 2022, Jackson lived in a hotel for several weeks before running out of money and turning to a youth shelter. Without stable housing, he had to drop out of his final semester of high school.
Despite being granted a court order to re-enter the foster system to receive supportive services, system officials have continually failed to provide him with the services he needs, including ASL interpretation and safe, stable housing. In May 2022, he was moved to a contracted hotel where, without an ASL interpreter, his call to police for help after being bullied, led to him being sent to a psychiatric hospital.
At every turn, Jackson was left to either navigate supportive systems alone or was given limited support often without an interpreter. Ultimately, he was accepted into a THPP-NMD program only to fall victim to a horrible prank that led to a fake welfare check and another police interaction where, once again without an ASL interpreter present, he was tackled by an officer. Soon after, Jackson was given a 3-day notice to vacate the premises and find housing on his own. This notice was later found to be unlawful and was withdrawn.
At the time of filing, Jackson resides at the THPP-NMD, but his housing situation is tenuous.
Despite these challenges, Jackson graduated from high school in June 2023 and hopes to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York to pursue a degree in criminal justice. He is a class representative to ensure the hardships and dismissals he experienced do not happen to other young people.