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.