Filed in December 2003, Wheeler v. Sanders alleged that Los Angeles County violated state and federal requirements designed to ensure children are safe because the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services failed to approve relative foster homes according to legal standards and to assist relatives in meeting basic health and safety requirements.
Over 11,000 foster children, over 36% of all foster children in Los Angeles County, were living with relatives at the time the lawsuit was filed. When children are removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect, California law gives a preference to placing them with relatives who are willing and able to care for them. In order to ensure that children are safe, federal and state law require the county to inspect and approve relative foster homes according to standards that are equivalent to foster care licensing standards. State policy also requires the county to assist relatives in meeting the standards, and to provide them with notice of the approval decision and an opportunity to appeal any denial of approval.
In 2002, Health and Human Services found California out of compliance with relative approval requirements and began withholding over $17 million per quarter. In October 2002, the Youth Law Center settled a lawsuit with the state resulting in a court order designed to bring California into compliance. However, audits showed that Los Angeles County was still not in compliance with the law.
On August 30, 2005, Los Angeles County pledged to improve the way social workers monitor the homes of foster children living with relatives, settling this lawsuit. Under the settlement, the county promised to uphold state and federal rules on checking the suitability of relatives’ homes for foster children. The county also agreed to introduce spot-checks to ensure that the assessments are done correctly. Under the terms of the settlement, the county provided YLC with quarterly reports through November 2008 when the County reported two consecutive quarters of compliance of 90% or better.
Reverend David Wheeler, a minister and advocate for children and families, brought this lawsuit and was represented by the Youth Law Center and Jeffrey Spitz and Hajir Ardebili with Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman, Machtinger & Kinsella, a Los Angeles law firm.