June 5, 2009

No Discrimination Against Foster Children with Disabilities

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ruled on June 4th that California state foster care officials must comply with state and federal disability laws in the AFDC-FC program, which provides support for children in foster care.  The ruling came in Leonard v. Wagner, a case filed in California state court in July 2007 by the Public Interest Law Project, Youth Law Center, and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

California provides monthly AFDC-FC payments for foster youth until the age of 19, but only if the youth’s school or education program certifies that he or she is expected to graduate by his or her 19th birthday.  This is known as the “completion rule.”  Any youth who is not expected to graduate by the age of 19 loses his or her foster care funding at the age of 18.  As a result, youth may lose their placement, leaving them with no place to live, and thus are denied the opportunity to continue to pursue their education.  The suit had charged that the state’s policy of cutting off foster care funding to youth who can’t meet the completion requirement because of a disability violates state and federal disability laws.

Judge Busch ordered state officials to develop and submit a plan to address the discriminatory effect of the completion rule and asked the parties to meet and confer on an appropriate time frame for state officials to propose and implement procedures to correct the discrimination.