Warren v. Saenz was a taxpayer action alleging that the California Department of Social Services has deliberately ignored the fact that nine counties — including Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Clara, and Orange — operate shelter facilities in violation of state licensing laws. Charging that thousands of California’s abused and neglected children each year are housed in unlicensed, overcrowded, and sometimes violent shelter care facilities, the Youth Law Center sued to require the state agency to close county run shelters that did not meet licensing standards. According to the complaint, children in these shelters slept in hallways or overcrowded rooms, did not receive needed mental health treatment, and were treated like prisoners although they are the victims of abuse or neglect. The Youth Law Center represented Joy Warren, a San Diego resident who was in foster care and confined in a San Diego County shelter.
On April 10, 2001, the court ordered the California Department of Social Services to require all county-operated shelters to meet community care licensing requirements. The state issued provisional licenses for eight shelters in July and August, 2001. The Youth Law Center is monitoring the implementation of the licensing requirements to ensure that children in public shelters are protected.