Remedy Eludes Former Foster Youth

Although “For every wrong there is a remedy” (Civ. Code sec. 3523), that remedy may not be in court.  In In re Jesse S. (June 7, 2017 G054169), 4/3 examined “an unusual case” in which it believed the appellant may be due relief, but rightly constrained itself from legislating from the bench.  The appeal concerned a youth who had been adopted while a foster child but sought to return to the foster care system at age 19 because, he asserted, his adoptive parents no longer were supporting him even though they were receiving payments from California’s Adoption Assistance Program.  The juvenile court judge denied his request because the statute only permitted that result if the adoptive parents no longer were collecting benefits.  The Court of Appeal “reluctantly” affirmed.

As in many families, the adoptive parents and Jesse did not see eye-to-eye on his life choices, with Jesse leaving college but declining therapy for his problems, also declining to return to their home, preferring homelessness, but eventually finding housing and a job as a busser.  The parents ensured he had health insurance,  but he eventually received public health insurance so even that was unnecessary.  Since Jesse was on his own, he sought reentry into the dependency system, apparently to obtain additional benefits.  However, the relevant statute only permitted that if the adoptive parents no longer provided support and also no longer were collecting benefits.  Because the benefits had not stopped, the trial court applied the letter of the law, denying the motion, despite the judge’s sympathy for the “Catch-22 in which Jesse found himself.”

The Court of Appeal explained the problem lay with the structuring of the programs and, despite the fact the funds were not being used for the intended purpose of “helping him transition to adulthood,” those funds must continue until there was “a mandatory reassessment, which may be an interval as long as two years.”  There apparently was no expeditious remedy in the statutory scheme to have the funds stop going from one program back to the dependency system for a particular individual, “a flaw in the statutory scheme.”  However, the Court could not “step in” and rewrite the statute, “not with a decent respect for the separation of powers.”  Although the result was “anomalous,” it was not “absurd” as the statutes governing the individual programs were not in an of themselves irrational.  The Court exhorted the Legislature to address the situation but, in this “case without villains,” it was up to the Legislature and the Governor to craft a solution for youth in Jesse’s situation, even though that solution apparently would come too late for Jesse.