LOS ANGELES—Yesterday, six young people in foster care filed a class action lawsuit against the state of California and LA County. The complaint challenges the Los Angeles County foster care system’s persistent failure to provide transition age youth (ages 16-21) in foster care with the essential housing and services to which they are legally entitled.
The defendant state and county entities include 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. These government agencies are responsible for ensuring that all young people in foster care have safe, stable, and appropriate housing, necessary supportive services, and legally compliant case and transition planning tailored to meet their individual needs.
“By denying transition age youth in foster care the housing and crucial services they are legally entitled to, state and county defendants send the unmistakable message that these youth are disposable, that their care is a responsibility for which the government would rather just wash its hands,” said Tara Ford, Senior Counsel at Public Counsel. “Today our young clients, who are all transition age youth in foster care, take the bold step of protecting their rights, they send another unmistakable message: ‘We do matter. We deserve care. We deserve better.’ We are committed to defending the rights of transition age youth in foster care to safe, stable, appropriate housing and needed supportive services.”
When extended foster care was created by federal legislation in 2008, it marked the most significant reform of America’s child welfare system in more than a decade. There is an acute incongruity between the stated goals of extended foster care and the reality experienced by the young people in Los Angeles County’s care, who are struggling to navigate the transition to adulthood without the benefit of a caring, reliable support system. Despite the clear mandates by Congress and the California Legislature to develop an extended foster care program with homelessness prevention at its core, homelessness remains a significant problem for youth in California’s extended foster care program. The impacts of the county and state’s prolonged failure to remedy the glaring deficiencies in Los Angeles County’s foster care system and Medicaid programs are pronounced and concrete.
“Los Angeles County’s child welfare system has over 4,000 young people over the age of 16 in its care. Over 60% of these youth meet the criteria for at least one mental health condition, and many have endured adverse childhood experiences that put them at greater risk for complex trauma,” said Jennifer L. Braun, President and CEO, Alliance for Children’s Rights. “It is the state’s and county’s responsibility to protect from harm the young people they have taken into their care. The Defendants need to make the systemic changes necessary to maintain a foster care system that works, and to ensure our clients and all other youth in foster care have safe, stable, and appropriate housing and the services they need.”
“Refusing to provide young people in foster care the support they are entitled by the county and state is re-traumatizing these young people,” said Jimmy P. Biblarz, Associate, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. “The government’s systemic failures consign young adults to homelessness and shelters. Foster youth, who the state is charged with caring for, cannot pursue their goals and dreams, succeed in school and find and maintain employment, or build the skills needed to thrive without the resources they deserve and to which they are legally entitled.”
“Our young clients’ experiences and challenges as they transition to adulthood demonstrate the tragic human toll the foster care system is taking every day. These youth deserve urgent action and systemic solutions to address the lack of safe, stable and appropriate housing and needed mental health services, and we are honored to partner with them,” said Leecia Welch, Deputy Litigation Director, Children’s Rights.
For more information on the case and to view the legal documents, visit HouseLAFosterYouth.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
The 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.