In 2013, the juvenile court in San Diego County determined Foster Girl
[FG] to be a dependent of the county and placed her in foster care. In
2016, after turning 18, the juvenile court continued FG’s dependency
in the county’s nonminor extended foster care system.
FG had problems in adjusting to the system, including a two-month stay-over
at her brother’s house in Florida, but she was willing to work with
the system to improve her life. With her willingness in mind, the San
Diego County Health and Human Services Agency [Agency] agreed to keep
her in the program. She lived in an approved independent living placement,
was looking for a job, and was enrolled in college. Because of her actions,
the juvenile court agreed with the Agency, and allowed FG to remain in
the nonminors’ foster program.
Sadly, FG was not without her problems. She began dating a man [BF] who
was allegedly abusive toward her. And even though FG agreed that her relationship
with BF was not healthy, she became pregnant. She married BF when she
was six months pregnant.
Upon learning of FG’s marriage, the Agency set a special hearing
and requested that the juvenile court terminate FG's nonminors’
program. Basing its request on an All-County Letter [Letter] written by
the California Department of Social Services [DSS], the Agency argued
that FG's marriage rendered her ineligible to participate in the extended
foster care program.
The [Letter] describes the policies and procedures regarding the nonminors’
foster care program. The [Letter] states that nonminors who (among others)
are married, are in the military, or are incarcerated are not eligible
for the nonminors’ foster care program.
In juvenile court, FG opposed terminating her nonminor foster care, arguing
that there were no statutes stating she was unqualified for the program.
However, the juvenile court agreed with the Agency stating, "Marriage
has historically and culturally been the benchmark for full independence."
The court noted that “…marriage ends the court's role
in the dependency context in the same way that marriage emancipates a
child from his or her parents.” FG appealed contending that the
program itself does not exclude marriage as a reason to deny admission
to the program.
The nonminors’ foster care program was set up in many states, including
California, with the help of funds from the federal government. To be
eligible, a person must originally be in the foster care system and “aged
out” but not over the age of 21. The nonminor must agree to certain
conditions including accepted independent living. Further the nonminor
must agree to one of the following: "(1) The nonminor is completing
secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential.
(2) The nonminor is enrolled in an institution which provides postsecondary
or vocational education. (3) The nonminor is participating in a program
or activity designed to promote or remove barriers to employment. (4)
The nonminor is employed for at least 80 hours per month. (5) The nonminor
is incapable of doing any of [these activities] due to a medical condition,
and that incapability is supported by regularly updated information in
the case plan of the nonminor. A county welfare department or other responsible
authority must work with the nonminor dependent to maintain his or her
eligibility for the program.”
The Appellate Court agreed with FG stating that since the rules of eligibility
into the program do not specifically exclude marriage, she had a right
to remain with the program.