In a Significant Ruling, Judge Affirms Government’s Responsibility to Provide Care and Shelter to Foster Youth in Foster Care Beyond Age 18, Allowing Case Brought by Young People in LA County Foster Care to Move Forward

LOS ANGELES—Late last week, Los Angeles County and the State of California lost their bid to convince a federal court judge to dismiss all of the claims against them in a case alleging they had persistently failed to provide transition age youth (ages 16-21) in foster care with the essential housing and services they have a right to under the law.

The court’s ruling clears the path for a lawsuit brought last year by Ocean S. and five other young people to vindicate their rights and the rights of all transition age youth in foster care in Los Angeles County: The court held that transition age youth in foster care have a Constitutional right to shelter, which includes emergency housing options. In addition, the court affirmed that transition age youth in foster care with disabilities have the right to access services and placement free from discrimination on the basis of their disability. Finally, the court gave Plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their complaint with additional facts.

Judge John Kronstadt’s decision highlighted that the government’s “special relationship does not automatically terminate when a foster youth becomes 18 years old.” The ruling also states that “because shelter presents a basic human need, transition age foster youth have a substantive due process right to “emergency housing options.’” Youth in foster care suing the state became homeless because of lack of adequate support from the State and County.

“Young people in foster care should never end up homeless, and I’m proud to help our clients defend their rights and try to fix the system for everyone who comes after them,” said Tara Ford, Senior Counsel at Public Counsel. “This decision reinforces that the State and County’s responsibility does not end when youth in foster care turn 18.”

“Advocates have a long history of trying to work with the State and County to improve housing access for older youth in foster care, including advancing state legislation, supporting county implementation, and providing direct advocacy for youth on individual clients’ cases,” said Jennifer L. Braun, President and CEO at Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Our experience has demonstrated that each of the named defendants performs an indispensable role, and that a meaningful, sustainable solution will require a fully integrated approach.”

“When the government takes children into custody, it steps into the shoes of their parents and, at the very least, must provide them with a safe place to live. The court’s common sense ruling affirms what every parent already knows: our children still need us when they turn 18,” said Leecia Welch, Deputy Legal Director at Children’s Rights. “We look forward to working with our clients to ensure that young people in LA’s foster care system have the support and services they need to be successful as they transition to adulthood.”

“As these young people passed through adolescence, the State and County failed in their duties to provide basic mental health care, as well as appropriate housing,” said Grant Davis-Denny, Partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. “Predictably, on their 18th birthday, transition aged youth often suffer serious mental health challenges and other disabilities, not to mention lacking a high school diploma, the funds needed for first and last month’s rent, credit history, or caregivers who can serve as co-signers on that first lease. The State and County fail to provide sufficient beds for all transition aged foster youth in need. In allocating the limited housing spots available, the State and County allow their contracted housing agencies to discriminate against those with disabilities. The Court’s ruling appropriately recognizes that these allegations of disability discrimination can violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution.”

The defendants include the California Department of Social Services, the California Health and Human Services Agency, the California Department of Health Care Services, the Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The youth are represented by Public Counsel; Alliance for Children’s Rights; Children’s Rights; and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.

For more information on the Ocean S. v. Los Angeles County case, visit HouseLAFosterYouth.org.

Media Contacts

Alex Comisar, Rise Strategy Group (214) 728-4909 alex@risestrategygroup.com

Camilla Jenkins, Children’s Rights (917) 971-1784 cjenkins@childrensrights.org

About Public Counsel

Public Counsel is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing civil rights and racial and economic justice, as well as to amplifying the power of our clients through comprehensive legal advocacy. Founded on and strengthened by a pro bono legal service model, our staff and volunteers seek justice through direct legal services, promote healthy and resilient communities through education and outreach, and support community-led efforts to transform unjust systems through litigation and policy advocacy in and beyond Los Angeles.

About Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP is a law firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. MTO maintains a national and international practice, with principal areas of focus including litigation, corporate, labor and employment, environmental, financial restructuring and tax.

About Alliance for Children’s Rights

Alliance for Children’s Rights protects the rights of children and young adults impacted by foster care. By providing free legal representation and social services, and by advocating for broad solutions through ground-breaking child welfare policy reform, the Alliance clears barriers to stability and opportunity so that young people and families can access the support and services they need to thrive. For more information, visit allianceforchildrensrights.org.

About Children’s Rights

Children’s Rights is a national advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of children living in or impacted by America’s child welfare, immigration, juvenile legal, education, and healthcare systems. We use civil rights impact litigation, advocacy and policy expertise, and public education to hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Our work centers on creating lasting systemic change that will advance the rights of children for generations. For more information, please visit childrensrights.org.