Shouldn’t adult foster youth have a right to be married like everyone else? We think so!
When H.C. was 18 years old, while living in a foster home, she opted to be declared a non-minor dependent and participate in the Extended Foster Care program (“EFC”). She qualified for EFC status because she was in school full-time. Thereafter, H.C. received monthly payments that she relied on to support her basic living needs. At age 19, H.C. got pregnant, then married, and began living with her husband. Because H.C. chose to marry the father of her child, Child Welfare Services (“CWS”) recommended to the court that H.C.’s status as a non-minor dependent be terminated. CWS based that position on an All-County Letter published by the California Department of Social Services which excluded youth from participating in EFC who were, among other things, married. H.C.’s attorney, Jamie Blackburn, argued that H.C.’s marital status should not affect her ability to qualify as a non-minor dependent. Mr. Blackburn noted that the law only requires youth to be continuing their education, working, or removing obstacles to employment, which H.C. was doing regardless of her marital status. The judge sided with CWS, however, and terminated jurisdiction. H.C.’s financial support from the County ceased. After her baby was born in June of 2017, H.C. started school seeking a medical assistant certificate. She undertook student loans to pay for it. After she completed school in November 2017, H.C. obtained an internship in that field. As H.C. moved forward with her education and career, she did not have the assistance of CWS because she had been terminated from EFC. Fortunately, Mr. Blackburn did not cease his advocacy for H.C. Instead of giving up after the trial court’s ruling, Mr. Blackburn appealed the issue to the Court of Appeals. In December 2017, the Court of Appeals issued a published opinion reversing the trial court’s ruling. The Court held that marriage does not necessarily affect any of the eligibility requirements of participating in EFC. The Court found that “allowing otherwise eligible married non-minor dependents to participate in extended foster care furthers the purpose of the program, which is to improve outcomes for former foster children by providing assistance, case management, and financial support as they transition to adulthood.” While the holding in In re H.C. clarified the law for future married non-minor dependents’ right to funding, it did not undue the harm to H.C. herself. While H.C. was eventually reinstated into EFC pursuant to the In re H.C. decision, during the months of waiting for the opinion she did not have the funding to support herself and her child. Accordingly, after the In re H.C. appeal, Mr. Blackburn sought back pay on behalf of H.C. from CWS. Unfortunately, his requests to CWS were denied. Undaunted, Mr. Blackburn did not stop there and requested an administrative hearing through the California Department of Social Services, State Hearings Division. Before a hearing could be held, however, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (“HHSA”) attempted to get the case dismissed on a technicality arguing that H.C. had not requested her hearing within the claim time period. Mr. Blackburn opposed the request to dismiss arguing that H.C. did not receive a required notice from HHSA. As a result, the presiding Administrative Law Judge denied HHSA’s request to dismiss and ordered that the hearing be held as scheduled. At that hearing, HHSA ultimately admitted its mistake regarding the notice and agreed the matter could be heard on the merits of the claim. Despite the In re H.C. opinion, HHSA’s position remained that H.C. was not entitled to the back pay because of her marriage pursuant to the aforementioned All-County Letter. After evidence and argument were submitted, the Administrative Law Judge took the matter under submission. In the end, a decision was issued stating that H.C. was in fact entitled to receive the funding she would have been entitled to but for the CWS determination to terminate her status/funding due to marriage. HHSA eventually paid H.C. $17,100. She remains a current non-minor dependent participating in a work readiness program, is happily married, and looking forward to the New Year with her 1 year old. H.C. turns 21 in April and will no longer be eligible for AB12 funding under the law.