Several youth advocacy organizations have filed a lawsuit against local and state agencies responsible for providing child welfare and mental health services to youth in foster care in Los Angeles County.
This lawsuit claims failures by these agencies to meet state and federal obligations around safe and appropriate housing, treatment and services, case planning, and transition planning.
Details about the lawsuit are available in the press release below.
For immediate release: August 25, 2023
Youth in foster care deserve better
New lawsuit highlights gaps in services and supports for older children and young adults in the Los Angeles County foster care system
LOS ANGELES – Earlier this week, several youth advocacy organizations filed a lawsuit against local and state agencies charged with providing child welfare and mental health services to transition age youth in foster care in Los Angeles County. Importantly, this lawsuit claims failures by these agencies to meet state and federal obligations around safe and appropriate housing, treatment and services, case planning, and transition planning. The lawsuit also claims discriminatory policies and practices impair the ability of youth with disabilities residing in foster care to access needed programs, services and housing options. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief requiring the Defendants to amend or develop policies and practices to address these harms.
With nearly 17,000 children and youth in out-of-home placement, Los Angeles County is home to the largest foster care system in the nation. Over 5,000 of these young people are between the ages of 16-21. Young adults who grow up in the foster care system face a higher risk of economic hardship, food insecurity, educational challenges and homelessness.
In 2012, in recognition of the need to provide more and better transitional support services, California extended foster care benefits to age 21. This legislative change meant to ensure youth have a safety net of support and secure housing for a longer period, as well as assistance to be better prepared for the transition to adulthood.
As identified in the lawsuit, and despite the change in law over a decade ago, the responsible governmental entities are still not meeting even the most basic needs of far too many children and youth, let alone the intensive services and supports to which they are entitled. The soaring costs of housing and the dearth of available services in Los Angeles have only made the situation more critical.
The undersigned organizations, who work directly with children and youth in foster care, appreciate the bravery of the named plaintiffs to bring these issues to the forefront. We are hopeful that those charged with caring for children and youth impacted by the child welfare system will come together to do better.
“Extended foster care has had a beneficial impact for many youth, however, where there are gaps the detriment can be catastrophic,” said Lesie Heimov, Executive Director for Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles. Heimov’s firm of over 600 staff members represents all of the children and youth in foster care in Los Angeles County, as well as those in Sacramento and Placer Counties. “We represent clients who, daily, are wondering where they are going to sleep or how they will get their next meal. We are talking about children and young adults in foster care who are hungry and homeless. That is unacceptable. These young people have suffered from severe trauma; many are disconnected from their families and communities. They need loving connections, safe and stable housing, and access to appropriate mental health services to heal and grow. This lawsuit is an important step.”
Charity Chandler-Cole, Chief Executive Officer for CASA of Los Angeles, stated, “As someone who has personally experienced the extraordinary consequences of homelessness, poverty, and helplessness as a result of our systems inability to prepare and truly support helping youth transitioning out of foster care, there needs to be an immediate systemic level reckoning with these failures and recognition that investments need to be made in community organizations to provide this support, as they are the trusted messengers our young people and communities know and trust.”
“I hope for an expedient resolution to the issues raised in this lawsuit, an eagerness to establish and strengthen relationships, and a spotlight on California’s need to close the pipeline from foster care into homelessness that increases our youth experiencing homelessness population,” said Jevone Wilkes, Executive Director for California Coalition of Youth. “Let’s keep in our hearts the people who will endure this process to do better so that the children and youth systemically involved can live healthier lives where they can thrive.”
“No young person should ‘age out’ of foster care, but unfortunately far too many do. States and counties have a specific and critical legal obligation to provide transition age youth with supports, including immediate access to safe and appropriate housing. We hope this lawsuit remedies these systemic failings and leads to increased safety and stability for youth in Los Angeles County and throughout the state,” said Poonam Juneja, Senior Managing Director of National Center for Youth Law.
Rachel Ewing, Firm Director with Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, stated “Black youth face many systemic disadvantages related to foster care and exiting care. Black or Latino youth experiencing homelessness between the ages of 18-24 in Los Angeles are more than twice as likely to have exited foster care than white youth. (LAHSA, 2019) Strategies to support these youth exiting foster care warrant further analysis and immediate interventions. This litigation is a bold step forward.”
Jevon Wilkes, California Coalition for Youth, (916) 514-4464 Jevon@calyouth.org
Willis Jacobson, National Center for Youth Law, (510) 421-3805 / email@example.com
Rachel Ewing, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, (323) 262-3028 / firstname.lastname@example.org