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Model State Legislation
Parental Due Process Act
is an example in the State
of California to have the model legislation (below)
in an effort to ensure Parental Due Process in the Juvenile
As hard as it is to believe,
of the Acts, and State
from these Acts were actually
Legislators were led to
believe that the
AGENCY were doing
Their job towards
and the Child's
Best Interest. This fact
alone makes it
a challenge for a
>On Feb. 27, 2015, a report
So YES, it is Official by a
by Profesionals about ALLEGED
Professionals that the AGENCY
DOING THEIR JOB
as bound by the very Laws they
However, and unfortunately this
legislation didn't get too far in the Legislative Process...
But, do check this information out and perhaps one can use this
information for their state..ie either All or part, depending on
their existing State Statutes.
legislation was written by a team of attorneys at Pacific
Justice Institute http://www.pacificjustice.org/ in
To protect the fundamental due process rights of a parent in
proceedings to terminate parental rights.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This shall be cited as the “Parental Due Process Act.”
SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSES.
(a) FINDINGS- the legislature finds that--
(1) Parental rights are so fundamental to
the human condition so as to be deemed inalienable. Termination
of parental rights equals or exceeds the detriment of criminal
(2) The “liberty interest of parents in the care, custody, and
control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the
fundamental liberty interests” recognized by the U.S. Supreme
Court. Troxel v. Granville, 527 U.S. 1069 (1999). Moreover, the
companionship, care, custody, and management of a parent over
his or her child is an interest far more precious than any
property right. May v. Anderson, 345 U.S. 528, 533, (1952). As
such, the parent-child relationship is an important interest
that undeniably warrants deference and, absent a powerful
countervailing interest, protection. Stanley v. Illinois, 405
U.S. 645 (1972).
(3) State and local family services, child protective agencies,
and courts have not recognized the rights of parents as
inalienable, and, as a result, have failed to provide
fundamental due process rights in the investigation and legal
proceedings to determine abuse, neglect, and the termination of
(b) PURPOSE- The purpose of this Act
is to provide core fundamental due process rights to parents
whose parental rights are subject to termination.
SECTION 3. DEFINITIONS.
As used in this Act:
(1) “Hearing” means any judicial or
(2) “law enforcement officer” means an employee, the
duties of whose position are primarily the prevention,
investigation, apprehension, or detention of individuals
suspected or convicted of offenses against the criminal laws,
including an employee engaged in this activity who is
transferred to a supervisory or administrative position, or
serving as a probation or pretrial services officer;
(3) “agency” means any state or local government;
(4) “Duress” consists of:
a. Unlawful confinement of the person
of the party, or of the husband or wife of such party, or of
an ancestor, descendant, or adopted child of such party,
husband, or wife;
b. Unlawful detention of the property of any such person;
c. Confinement of such person, lawful in form, but
fraudulently obtained, or fraudulently made unjustly
harassing or oppressive.
(5) “Actual fraud” consists of any
of the following acts, committed by a party, or with his
connivance, with intent to deceive another party thereto, or to
induce him to enter into an agreement or to rely upon it to his
a. The suggestion, as a fact, of that
which is not true by one who does not believe it to be true;
b. The positive assertion, in a manner not warranted by the
information of the person making it, of that which is not
true, though he believes it to be true;
c. The suppression of that which is true, by one having
knowledge or belief of the fact;
d. A promise made without any intention of performing it;
e. Any other act fitted to deceive.
(6) “Undue influence” consists of:
a. In the use, by one in whom a
confidence is reposed by another,
or who holds a real or apparent authority over him, of such
confidence or authority for the purpose of obtaining an
advantage over him;
b. In taking an unfair advantage of another's weakness of
c. In taking a grossly oppressive and unfair advantage of
another's necessities or distress.
(7) “Malice" means conduct that is
intended by the person to cause injury or despicable conduct
that is carried out with a willful and conscious disregard of
the rights or safety of others;
(8) “Emergency” means exigent
circumstances in which immediate action is required to prevent
the imminent physical injury or death of a child.
SECTION 4. HEARINGS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
(a) Upon the request of a parent, guardian
or custodian, the right to have proceedings open to the public
shall be guaranteed in the following circumstances:
(1) any hearing for the purpose of
terminating parental rights;
(2) any hearing for the purpose of determining if a child is or
has been deprived.
(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a), a
judge may, upon consideration of written motion and papers filed
in opposition, exclude the public if it is determined, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the safety of the child
would be in jeopardy by a public hearing.
If the public is excluded from the hearing,
the following people may attend the
closed hearing unless the judge finds it is not in the best
interests of the child:
(i) the child's relatives;
(ii) the child's foster parents, if the child resides in foster
(iii) any person requested by the parent.
SECTION 5. TRIAL BY JURY
Upon the request of a parent, guardian or
custodian, the right to a trial by jury shall be guaranteed in the
(1) any hearing to terminate
(2) any hearing to determine if a child is or has been
SECTION 6. RELIGIOUS/CULTURAL/MORAL/ETHNIC VALUES AND BELIEFS OF
In placing the legal custody or guardianship of a child with an
individual or a private agency, a court shall take into
consideration the religious, cultural, moral and ethnic values of
the child or of his/her parents, if such values are known or
ascertainable by the exercise of reasonable care.
SECTION 7. ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL RECORDING OF INTERVIEWS
Except in the case of an emergency, any law enforcement officer,
agent or employee for a state’s health and welfare department or
child protective services, or mental health professional, who
interviews a child for the purposes of investigation, shall
electronically and/or digitally cause to be made an audio and visual
recording of all questioning of, and interviews with, children. All
recordings made pursuant to subsection (a) shall be made available
to the parent, guardian or custodian of a child not later than ten
days prior to any hearing to terminate parental rights or to
determine if a child is or has been deprived.
SECTION 8. EVIDENCE IN FACT-FINDING HEARINGS
(a) Only evidence that is competent,
material and relevant may be admitted in a
(b) Any determination at the conclusion of a fact-finding
a respondent did an act or acts must be based on proof beyond a
reasonable doubt. For this purpose, an uncorroborated confession
out of court by a respondent is not sufficient.
SECTION 9. RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL
(a) In that removal of a child from a home
for even brief periods is an extreme hardship on families, upon
the request of a parent, guardian or custodian, the right to a
speedy trial shall be guaranteed in the following circumstances:
(1) any hearing to terminate parental
(2) any hearing to determine if a child is or has been
(b) A hearing, as described in subsection a,
shall be conducted within thirty days of any type of removal of a
child. In the event that the thirtieth day falls on a legal holiday
or other day when the court is not in session, the hearing shall be
conducted prior to the thirtieth day. In no event shall a hearing be
conducted beyond the thirtieth day after the removal of a child if
the right to a speedy trial has been exercised.
SECTION 10. WAIVER OF RIGHTS
The rights of a parent or guardian as described in this Act cannot
be waived, neither can parental rights be terminated, if said waiver
is due to:
(3) undue influence; or
SECTION 11. IMMUNITY
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the civil
immunity of juvenile court social workers, agents or employees
of a health and welfare department or child protective services
or law enforcement official authorized to initiate or conduct
investigations or proceedings shall not extend to any of the
(2) Fabrication of evidence;
(3) Failure to disclose known exculpatory evidence;
(4) Obtaining testimony by duress, fraud, or undue
(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of
law, any prosecutor, investigator, agent or employee of a
state’s health and welfare department or child protective
services who induces a parent to waive any of his or her rights
under this Act by
(2) undue influence; or
(3) duress shall be subject to civil liability.
SECTION 12. DAMAGES
In the case of a determination by a court or jury of any
violation of a parent’s rights under this Act, damages shall be
SECTION 13. ATTORNEYS FEES
Subsections (b) and (c) of section 722 of the Revised Statutes (42
U.S.C. 1988 (b) and (c)) (concerning the award of attorney's and
expert fees) shall apply to cases brought or defended under this
SECTION 14. SEVERABILITY
If any provision of this Act or of an amendment made by this Act, or
any application of such provision to any person or circumstance, is
held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this Act, the
amendments made by this Act, and the application of the provision to
any other person or circumstance shall not be affected.
Due process definition
to CA News
June 25, 2009
Victory! Supreme Court Declares Strip
Search of 13-Year-Old Student
The Supreme Court ruled today that
school officials violated the
constitutional rights of Savana Redding,
a 13-year-old Arizona girl who was strip
searched based on a classmate's
uncorroborated accusation that she
previously possessed ibuprofen. This is
the biggest victory for students’ rights
in the last 20 years.
Cases like this depend on the brave
clients who stand up for all of our
rights and the support of members like
you who make it happen.
Please take a moment to send a
message of support to Savana.
We thought you would like to hear about
this case straight from Savana. Below is
a post she wrote for our blog this
by Savana Redding
People of all ages expect to have the
right to privacy in their homes,
belongings, and most importantly, their
persons. But for far too long, students
have been losing these rights the moment
they step foot onto public school
property -- a lesson I learned firsthand
when I was strip-searched by school
officials just because another student
who was in trouble pointed the finger at
me. I do not believe that school
officials should be allowed to
strip-search kids in school, ever. And
though the U.S. Supreme Court did not go
quite so far, it did rule that my
constitutional rights were violated when
I was strip-searched based on nothing
more than a classmate’s uncorroborated
accusation that I had given her
ibuprofen. I’m happy for the decision
and hope it helps make sure that no
other kids will have to experience what
I went through.
Strip searches are a traumatic intrusion
of privacy. Forcing children to remove
their clothes for bodily inspection is
not a tool that school officials should
have at their disposal. Yet, until
today, the law was apparently unclear,
potentially allowing for the most
invasive of searches based on the least
of suspicions. Every day, parents
caution their children about the
importance of not talking to strangers,
looking both ways before crossing the
street, and following directions at
school. But I imagine they never think
to warn them that a school official,
acting on a hunch, may force them to
take their clothes off in the name of
safety. And now, thankfully, they won’t
Our fundamental rights are only as
strong as the next generation believes
them to be, and I am humbled to have had
a part in preserving and promoting the
Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
>>Tell Savana you appreciate her
courage by signing our message of
about the case.
Target: All Senators
and the President
We are organizing a class
action lawsuit against the County of Riverside, the State of
California, all states, and the Nation, and all parties involved
in unlawfully detaining and holding our children against our
will, and without cause. We have documented the deep, imbedded
corruption in the social services agencies nationwide. We have
filed three lawsuits so far, and are looking for other families
who have also been annihilated by this evil. Email us at
FightCPScalifornia@gmail.com or go to the link at
to join the fight to save our children.
See Full Petition
Back to Top
We all know the devastating
effect CPS/DPSS has had on all of our lives – emotionally,
mentally, physically and financially. What my husband and I
have done is create this class action lawsuit, and devoted our
lives to finding and recovering our now 15 month old baby girl,
who was taken at birth from the hospital by cps, based on their
lies, so they could sell her for adoption and to make their
annual numbers for funding.
Our names are Gerald and
Katherine, and we have taken our court fight to appeals, which
is now already pre-decided to be denied. We are a highly
educated, determined, and very strong couple, and we do not want
this massacre of our babies to continue. Of the now 155 signers
of the petition against CPS, many are in California, but they
are nationwide. We all will only be strong enough to beat this
together. Right now, we need your help. We have given
up our lives to fight this evil, and we bought a conversion van,
FULLY equipped with an office, laptop, printers, video & audio
recording/surveillance, wifi internet, GPS, CB, everything
needed to be mobile to speak with everyone and get all the legal
issues in order for this class action lawsuit.
Right now, we need
contributions to this cause to be able to survive this.
Obviously, the paper, ink, supplies, court costs and simple
living expenses have exhausted our entire savings, which CPS has
delighted in doing to each one of us. If anyone can help us now
with lodging or some contributions, we will carry this on until
we bring this to the front of society and defeat this evil
scheme. We are now in the Encinitas, CA area, and it is
disgusting how the media talks about charities and saving
children, when right under their nose, they allow and fund
"companies" like CPS to savagely steal and sell our babies.
Again, we have decided to
give up our entire lives to fight this, and we need help from
any of you. If you can't help this cause, it does not exclude
you from the lawsuit in any way. We just all need to pull
together on this, and we have very strong cases, evidence,
facts, and data to prove that what CPS has done to each of us is
a criminally punishable crime. Anyone who wishes to remain
anonymous in this lawsuit, will be protected, to protect your
family, and we understand that entirely. But alone, CPS has us
beat. Together, we can stop these cps crimes. If you can
contribute financially in any way, please contact us
firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then share with you
our individual lawsuits we have already filed, as well as all
class action case information and details.
We will provide to you on a
daily basis, an update on attorneys we have spoken with,
individuals we have contacted, and our efforts on this class
action lawsuit. We are action oriented individuals, and are
taking a stand against this immediately. Please contact us if
you are interested in helping. We apologize if you receive this
email more than once – we are trying to communicate and organize
over 300 people and websites, with VERY similar stories and
circumstances. We sent this BCC to protect everyone's privacy.
Gerald and Katherine
Back to Top
Blue-ribbon panel urges reform of
California foster care system
— California's nearly 80,000 foster children are underserved by
overburdened courts and agencies making life-changing decisions
for them and often end up in limbo, according to a report
foster care system, the largest in the nation and representing
15 to 20 percent of all foster children, is simply overwhelmed,
according to a report by the California Blue Ribbon Commission
on Children in Foster Care. The panel was appointed by
California Chief Justice Ronald George to study the courts' role
in these cases and recommend reforms.
In a two-year
study, the panel found serious consequences resulting from the
lack of time foster cases receive in court. The entire juvenile
court system has fewer than 150 full- and part-time judges and
commissioners working on foster care, with caseloads averaging
1,000. Lawyers for these courts average 273 cases apiece — in
some counties 500 to 600 cases — and often do not meet the
children and parents they are representing until moments before
found that hearings last an average of 10 to 15 minutes, and
that delays and continuances are common. Children also are often
shifted from placement to placement.
half of the state's 80,000 foster children remain in the system
for two or more years, 17 percent for more than three years.
About 5,000 foster care children reach the age of 18 and are
termed out of the system — set loose in the world — without
reuniting with their families or getting placed in other
simply unconscionable," said Carlos Moreno, the commission
chairman and a state Supreme Court associate justice.
presented the panel's findings and recommendations in San
Francisco on Friday to the state Judicial Council, the
policymaking body for the state's judiciary.
the Judicial Council unanimously endorsed the commission's
recommendations, which focused on several key areas: preventing
the removal of children from their families, when it is safe to
do so; reforming the courts to give cases more priority and
assign more judges to hear them; improving coordination between
the courts and social service agencies; and providing more
resources and funding to the juvenile courts by being more
flexible with funds.
"No child —
no family — should be denied critical services because of
financial restraints," said Moreno, who noted that
children who grow up in foster care are more likely to end up as
burdened adults — jobless, homeless and in jail or prison.
has already taken many of the steps the state panel recommended,
said Pattie Hunt, president of the Ventura County Foster Parent
"We do a lot
of upfront work trying to keep the family in its home," said the
Oak View foster mother who has cared for 71 babies, many
that the court system needs to be improved. She said parents
facing removal of their children need more time to meet with
their attorneys before court hearings.
Data was not
immediately available Friday on the average caseloads for
attorneys in Ventura County. But Tari Cody, the judge
overseeing dependency court cases, has said that she reviews 800
to 1,000 abuse and neglect cases annually.
findings and recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission
the age for children to receive foster care assistance from
18 to 21.
strides to ensure that all participants in foster care
hearings have their voices heard.
commissions at the county level that include court and child
welfare agency personnel to resolve local concerns and
implement the panel's recommendations.
Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care was composed of 42
child welfare experts, legislators, court officials and foster
youths. Their study was the first to focus on the role of the
courts and their responsibility for foster children in
— Star staff
writer Kathleen Wilson contributed to this report.
In the wake of the unanimous ruling of the Court of Appeal
for the Second Appellate District to recognize homeschooling as
a legal option in California, two of California’s most senior
officials have given their opinion of the ruling.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
“This is a victory for California’s students, parents and
education community. This decision confirms the right every
California child has to a quality education and the right
parents have to decide what is best for their children. I
hope the ruling settles this matter for parents and
homeschooled children once and for all in California, but
assure them that we, as elected officials, will continue to
defend parents’ rights.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
“I am pleased that the courts have clarified the right of
California parents to homeschool their children. I have
respected the right of parents to make educational decisions
they feel are in the best interest of their children. I
recognize and understand the consternation that the earlier
court ruling caused for many parents and associations
involved in homeschooling. It is my hope that today’s ruling
will allay many of those fears and resolve much of the
HSLDA appreciates the efforts of these two officials as they
were part of the group who defended the right of parents to
homeschool before the Court of Appeal.
By Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton -
Last Updated 10:32 pm PDT Friday, August 8, 2008
In the 16 days between the time 4-year-old
Jahmaurae Allen was beaten to death and Sacramento Child Protective
Services publicly released portions of its records this week, the
case file was altered to change the original finding in the case,
The Bee has learned.
One early version of the report from the
social worker, who began handling an allegation of abuse
involving the 4-year-old on June 19, described the allegation as
"unfounded," two sources who read the document told The Bee this
Another version obtained by
The Bee described the allegation of abuse of the little boy as
But the portions released by CPS to
The Bee this week under a new public records law do not
reflect either of those findings. Instead, those files
indicate the allegations of abuse were "substantiated,"
a finding listed as being "effective 7/21/08" - the day
Jahmaurae was beaten to death, allegedly by his mother's
A top county official said today she was
unaware of the varying case files until The Bee raised
questions, and that an inquiry had begun.
"We're pulling computer records right
now to find out what's happened," said Lynn Frank, director of
the county's Health and Human Services department, which
The existence of differing versions of
the case file sparked outrage among children's advocates who
work closely with the agency. Some had been instrumental in
getting the new California law passed, which forces county child
welfare agencies to open the files of children who die on their
"This is unbelievable," said Robert
Fellmeth, a law professor and director of the San Diego-based
Children's Advocacy Institute, which backed the new disclosure
"If you don't take the kid (from the
home), the only check you have is this - the record of what you
did or did not do...," he said. "If you start playing with that
and altering that, you undermine the only check these kids have
on failure to protect."
Alarm over child welfare employees
falsifying or backdating files has surfaced elsewhere.
Last week in Philadelphia, criminal
charges were filed against two social workers involved in a case
that led to the starvation death of a disabled 14-year-old girl.
Workers there were accused by the grand jury of falsifying
documents after her death to make it appear as though they had
performed their jobs properly.
In New Jersey, a children's advocates
group sued that state's child protection agency several years
ago for allegedly ordering case files to be altered.
"If this is what happened (in
Sacramento), whoever did it and whoever ordered it should be
fired immediately," said Richard Wexler, executive director of
the Virginia-based National Coalition for Child Protection
"It's dishonest," he said. "It's
covering up the extent of whatever errors may have been, and
that endangers the next child."
Jahmaurae's death has spawned a
Sacramento County grand jury probe of CPS, and the agency itself
said Tuesday it was planning to have an independent review of
CPS has conceded that it should have
done more to protect Jahmaurae before he was killed, and
suspended the social worker in the case.
At the time, the agency said the social
worker "worked in isolation and did not follow established
department procedures, such as: required contact with reporting
party; required contact with medical personnel; required contact
with persons who may have knowledge of the family; and reviewing
the case with the supervisor."
Sources familiar with the case say the
social worker's entries and narrative about what happened were
not accessible until after Jahmaurae was killed. It remains
unclear who completed portions of the file.
CPS documents show the social worker
evaluated the case after a doctor reported to the agency June 17
that Jahmaurae might be the victim of physical abuse. That
doctor reported finding a painful swelling and bruise on the
boy's chest the size of an adult fist.
CPS documents indicate the social worker
tried to contact the boy and his mother on June 19, going to
their Foothill Farms apartment. The worker went to the wrong
apartment at first, the documents state, and when she found the
right apartment no one was home. She left her card on the door
and returned to make another attempt at contact June 21, the
documents state, and left her card again.
Back to Top
Bills Signed by
AB 2216 – Child Welfare Leadership-Intro. Feb. 22, 2006-Text
Karen Bass (D-Baldwin Hills)
Co-sponsored by NCYL, Children's Advocacy Institute, the
Children's Law Center of Los Angeles
Establishes a Child Welfare Leadership Council, within the
Health and Human Services Agency, to bring together the multiple
agencies and departments that provide services to children and
families in the child welfare system.
AB 2480 – Appellate Representation for Foster Youth-Intro.
Feb. 23, 2006-Text
Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa)
Co-sponsored by NCYL, Children's Advocacy Institute, the
Children's Law Center of Los Angeles
Assists in children accessing an attorney during dependency
proceedings in the appellate courts.
SB 1641 – Promoting Family-Like Environments for Foster Children-Intro.
Feb. 24, 2006-Text
Nell Soto (D-Pomona)
Co-sponsored by NCYL and Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting
Requires that foster care placements and day-to-day caregiver
decisions for foster children be based on the “reasonable
prudent parent” standard. This means that foster children and
youth should be placed in homes that best promote a family-like
environment and permit children to engage in reasonable
day-to-day activities. AB 1641 also acknowledges the work of the
Department of Social Services, Division of Community Care
Licensing, in reviewing regulations and policies to ensure that
they promote both well-being and safety of children, and
requires a progress report to the Legislature at the regular
2007-08 budget hearings
AB 2488 - Foster Youth Sibling Connections-Intro. Sept. 22,
Mark Leno (D-San Francisco)
Sponsored by the Children’s Law Center for Los Angeles
Eliminates legal obstacles to youth searching for their siblings
after one or more of them have been adopted. This legislation
ensures that siblings are able to remain connected and find each
other through a more accessible and streamlined process.
AB 1979 – Promoting Mentorship-Intro. Feb. 9. 2006-Text
Karen Bass (D-Baldwin Hills)
Sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff
Promotes meaningful and lifelong connections between foster
youth and mentors by waiving the fees for criminal background
checks for mentors, thereby encouraging more Californians to
AB 2985 – Protecting Foster Youth from Identity Theft-Intro.
Feb. 24, 2006-Text
Bill Maze (R-Visalia)
Requires county welfare departments to request credit checks for
foster youth who are 16 or older and provide referrals to credit
counseling organizations if the credit check discloses any
AB 2195 – Placement With Relatives-Intro. Feb. 22, 2006-Text
Karen Bass (D-Baldwin Hills)
Sponsored by the County Welfare Directors Association
Facilitates expedient and safe placements of foster youth with
relatives when their primary foster parent or caregiver is
suddenly unable to provide care. The law calls for establishing
standards and procedures for counties to assess and approve
relative providers on an emergency basis.
SB 1667 – Parent Participation in Dependency Proceedings-Intro.
Mar. 29, 2006-Text
Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica)
Sponsored by Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting
Promotes foster parent participation in dependency hearings by
making sure they receive appropriate notices and forms, as well
as information on how to provide input and recommendations to
AB 2781 – Regulation of Private Child Support Collectors-Intro.
Feb. 24, 2006-Text
Author Mark Leno (D-San Francisco)
Sponsored by NCYL, Children's Advocacy Institute
The bill requires a private child support collector to
provide in a written contract notices and disclosures of
consumer rights to parents receiving child support, as well as
additional information about child support payments during the
contract term. The new law also authorizes the parent to cancel
any contract under certain circumstances; prescribes the rights
of the parties with respect to child support agencies and other
governmental entities; and outlines procedures and remedies for
enforcement of the law. The new law also requires that every
court order for child support issued beginning in 2010, and
every child support agreement providing child support payments
approved by the court beginning in 2010, include a separate
money judgment owed by the parent receiving child support to the
private child support collector. This money judgment would be in
favor of the private collector and the custodial parent jointly.
The bill also regulates the conduct and compensation of
attorneys who are private child support collectors.
Governor signs bill to improve rights for
foster children in court
Article Launched: 07/22/2008
01:38:29 AM PDT
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger strengthened the
rights of California's 80,000 children in foster care on Monday,
signing a law that ensures greater opportunities for youths to be
present in court hearings deciding the course of their lives - from
where they will live to how often, if ever, they will see their
The measure was introduced by Assemblyman Dave
Jones, a Democrat from Sacramento, to address a major flaw in
California's juvenile dependency courts throughout the state:
Hearings routinely occur without the children whose lives are at
stake. Their absence was one key problem highlighted in the February
series in the Mercury News, "Broken Families, Broken Courts," that
revealed deep dysfunction in the state dependency system, the
largest in the nation.
A commission appointed by Chief Justice Ronald
George later reiterated the problem.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, calls
for judicial officers to postpone hearings for children at least 10
years old if they have not been given notice and the chance to
attend; while the law already called for children to be notified of
hearings, it made no provision if the law was ignored.
In a letter released to members of the
California State Assembly who had voted unanimously for the bill,
the governor said he "wholeheartedly" supports the goal of providing
foster children with greater access to hearings. "I am signing this
bill because the foster children of this state deserve to have a
role in their futures,
But he also sent a rebuke to local decision
makers - the judges, lawyers and social workers who oversee such
weighty matters as whether children will ever see their parents
again, following allegations of abuse or neglect. Outside of Los
Angeles, where the participation of children is an ingrained part of
the local court culture, foster youths are routinely absent from
hearings in their cases, the Mercury News investigation determined.
Judges up and down the state revealed in
interviews that they are unable to make the best decisions for
children in foster care when they cannot see them, hear from them,
and attach a name with a file, regardless of the age of the child.
Schwarzenegger questioned "why the courts have
not made such access a greater priority when it is allowed under
current law. More likely than not the reason is lack of resources
and overburdened court schedules, which this bill fails to address."
He also cautioned that whatever costs the new
law would incur, such as transportation expenses or social worker
time, would have to be borne under existing budgets, in a time of
fiscal crisis statewide.
A triumphant Jones, the Assembly judiciary
chairman, greeted the news of his bill's passage Monday afternoon by
thanking the governor for signing the bill despite estimates by his
staff that the bill would cost up to $900,000 a year.
"These hearings are deciding the very futures
of these children," said Jones. "It makes no sense whatsoever to
deny them the opportunity to be there and participate. The costs of
not doing so are enormous in terms of bad decisions about
placements, further abuse and neglect, and broken lives."
Jones said he was moved to act after reading
in the Mercury News the story of former foster youth-turned-student
activist Zairon Frazier of Alameda County.
Frazier fought to attend all his court
hearings but did so by his own sheer will and determination. Absent
support, he traveled by bus and train to and from his court
hearings, at times in the dark, alone and afraid. When he left the
foster care system at age 18, his final "emancipation hearing" was
held in his absence. No one bothered to change the date to avoid a
scheduling conflict with his high school final exams.
Frazier - now 21 and busy scraping together
the money to attend the University of Hawaii by working three jobs -
said he is elated to hear the path will be easier for foster youths
now coming through the system.
"I did not know the entire state senate would
be voting on a story about what happened to me in foster care. I
consider it an honor, it's very exciting," he said. "But I also
consider it a duty. I'm a foster youth advocate, it's what I'm
supposed to do. If something went wrong with you, change it so that
it won't happen to anybody else."
Last week, Schwarzenegger signed two other
bills to improve the foster care system. One bill requires county
welfare departments to provide youths aging out of the system with
documents needed to obtain medical benefits and other social
services, as well as family photographs and information regarding
Indian heritage. A second bill strengthens the legal rights
of foster youth who have children of their own while in the system.
Back to Top
Audit of Family Court System
By Malcolm Maclachlan
published Thursday, June 26, 2008
Link to Article
Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, is circulating a letter
asking the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) for an audit of
California's family court system and the way it handles child custody
The letter, addressed to JLAC chair Nell Soto, D-Pomona, raises numerous
issues. It asks the JLAC to look into court appointees, such as
mediators, investigators, therapists, and attorneys assigned to work on
custody cases. It also cites "increasing evidence" that children are
being placed with parents who are committing sexual abuse or domestic
"This is something there have been concerns about over a number of
years," Lieber said. "With the audit request, we're really trying to
make sure we have a handle on what's going on in these cases."
The letter also cites eight counties where "large numbers of problematic
cases appear to arise." At the top of this lists, are Sacramento and
Marin, which is also the home of a group pushing for the audit. The
Greenbrae-based Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE) has been
circulating a 42-minute film called "Family Court Crisis: Our Children
at Risk," to try to drum up interest in reforming family courts. They've
also been testifying about the problems they see, most recently at a
hearing last week in San Francisco of the California Commission on the
Status of Women.
Attorney Beth Jordan, co-chair of the Family Law section of the Marin
County Bar Association, characterized the CJE as a group of "disgruntled
litigants" who are trying to use to political process to get the results
the courts wouldn't give them. She represented the father in the case of
litigant Rama Diop. Diop testified at the Women's Commission last week
about the "bias, corruption and blatant disregard for the Law" that
takes places in Marin.
Jordan does not contest that Diop was a poor, African-born mother
fighting a case against a well-off American father. But she said Diop
was represented by multiple attorneys through trials and appeals, was
given adequate resources to state her case and made multiple attempts to
get the judge thrown off the case. Diop now has joint custody.
"I'm sure she feels she was taken advantage of because she's a woman and
she's poor and she's a person of color," Jordan said. She added, "I
don't doubt in any way that the litigants believe what they're saying. I
also think they make up a lot of things."
One of the things women often "make up," according to Jordan, is
allegations of sexual abuse. This is often done with "questionable
timing" as the mother is about to lose her case.
Attorneys and others associated with the CJE paint a very different
picture. Kathleen Russell, a staff consultant to the CJE, said that you
can find examples of the way things should be done very close to Marin
and Sacramento counties-just go to next door to San Francisco or Yolo
counties, respectively. In both cases, they said, these counties have
far better records of following the law, taking all evidence into
account and keeping children out of abusive situations.
"We have terrific laws and procedures put in place for the protection of
families and children," said Barbara Kaufman, a family law attorney
active with the CJE who represented Diop. "They're not being followed."
What's missing in many counties, both women say, is oversight and
accountability. Russell said that in some counties the family courts
have become "a racket." Testimony compiled by the CJE abounds with
accounts of parents have to pay out tens of thousands of dollars to an
attorney appointed to represent their child, who then meets with the
child for a just a few hours over several years. Others tell of
expensive "co-parenting" session with a therapist, in which a woman must
pay to sit in a room with the man who has beaten her or her children,
following the rules in hopes of getting their children back.
In rich counties like Marin, a well-off parent can use the courts to
systematically destroy their ex-spouse, she said. Through repeated
orders for expensive mediation, counseling and legal representation for
their children, they are "systematically stripped of their resources."
Contrary to Jordan's claims,
Russell added, many women hold back from raising abuse or violence
allegations, lest the other side charge them "parental alienation
syndrome" and try to use the charge to seek full custody.
"By the very act of raising these allegations, they're losing their
kids," Russell said. The audit, she said, it merely trying to "create
a culture of accountability."
Judge Verna Adams-who is Presiding Judge in Marin County Superior Court
and Supervising Judge of their Family Law Division-said that her court
is already audited regularly by the Judicial Council of California.
Adams, who presided over Diop's case, said she is confident an audit
will find no major problems. "In Marin we have a long history of
well-funded special interest groups who are trying to exert political
pressure on judges to rule in favor of parents who belong to these
groups," Adams said. "This group (CJE) has been trying for months to
find a legislator to carry legislation to change the family court
structure in California. They're trying to influence a small number of
cases in Marin. I can assure you that our judges are not going to
succumb to this kind of pressure."
Lieber said that she is close to having several co-signers for the
letter. Then the JLAC, which consists of seven Assemblymembers and seven
Senators, would have to vote to approve the audit. The resulting work by
the Bureau of State Audits would then take several months-by which time
Lieber will have been termed out the Assembly.
But she said she has submitted bill language the Legislative Council in
order to give a head start to any legislator who might like to take up
the cause in the next session. This text focuses on changes she said
would ensure accountability in the system, particularly when it comes to
court appointees and allegations of violence or sexual abuse. If the
audit does show major problems, Lieber said, a resulting bill could get
"I think there could be republican votes for it, definitely," Lieber
said. "And the governor has shown a real willingness to take on
children's issues and domestic violence issue. So I think there is an
open door there."
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