Higgins v. Saenz

Higgins v. Saenz, a lawsuit the Youth Law Center filed on October 24, 2002, against the State Department of Social Services, challenged the agency’s failure to enforce federal regulations requiring states to license foster homes of relatives that care for youth to ensure that the homes meet health and safety requirements. The suit charged that some children are living in substandard and dangerous conditions because of the state’s failure to require counties to fully investigate relative homes and to provide assistance to relatives in meeting licensing requirements. Approximately, 46% of California’s 100,000 foster youth are living in relative foster care homes. Also, federal regulators have been withholding more than $6 million a month in reimbursements to families because the state Department of Social Services had not demonstrated that they meet the same standards as non-relative homes, as required by federal law. On the same day, YLC agreed to settle the suit in exchange for reforms. The settlement requires uniform, statewide standards for foster parents who are related to the children in their custody. It also calls for audit and requires counties to help unqualified relatives meet the standards, rather than simply not considering the relatives or taking the children away from them. The state will set aside $1 million a year to help those families. Since the beginning of 2002, the federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families have been withholding $18.7 million per quarter because the state had not demonstrated that relatives homes were being held to the same standard as foster homes. “It’s good for the state, because at a minimum, it will stop them from losing any more money,” said Carole Shauffer, executive director of the Youth Law Center, “And it will be good for the kids, because they’ll be able to live with relatives and we’ll know they’ll be in safe homes.” The Youth Law Center is monitoring compliance with the settlement agreement.