Court Rules on Definition of a "Nonminor Dependent" Under California Law

January 24, 2013
By Thomas M. Huguenor on January 24, 2013 4:07 PM |

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Children in California's foster care system used to "age out" of the system automatically upon reaching the age of eighteen, abruptly ending their access to services. Young adults found themselves turned loose without necessarily having the means or the skills to thrive in the adult world. California passed the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (CFCSA) to correspond to a federal statute and allow "nonminor dependents" to continue in the foster system long enough to acquire the means to join society. A California appellate court recently considered how to apply the definition of "nonminor dependent" in the case of a child who turned eighteen while in the system. In re K.L., No. D061577, slip op. (Cal. App. 4th, Oct. 25, 2012).

The CFCSA became effective on January 1, 2012. Juvenile courts may maintain dependency over qualifying individuals who have turned eighteen but not yet turned twenty-one. The California Welfare and Institutions Code defines a "nonminor dependent" in § 11400(v) as someone who turned eighteen while in a foster care placement under county or Indian tribal jurisdiction; who was eighteen years old or younger on January 1, 2012; and who is involved in a "transitional independent living case plan."

The case before the court involved K.L., a child who turned eighteen in September 2011. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (the "Agency") had filed a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code § 300(d) based on allegations that her father had sexually abused her. The Agency removed her from her father's home in September 2010, claiming that K.L.'s mother knew she was not safe in her father's home, but had moved out three months earlier. The court declared K.L. a dependent child and ordered reunification services for the mother.

Although the court found that the mother had made progress at the six-month review hearing, the Agency recommended termination of the mother’s reunification services after K.L. turned eighteen. The court held a contested twelve-month review hearing in January 2012, where the mother argued that K.L. was a nonminor dependent, and that the court could therefore continue reunification services. The court instead ruled that reunification would not be in K.L.’s best interest, and ordered K.L.’s placement in a group home with a new planned permanent living arrangement. It maintained that it continued to have jurisdiction over K.L. even though she had turned eighteen.

The mother appealed, again arguing that K.L. was a nonminor dependent. The appellate court agreed with the Agency’s argument that K.L. did not qualify because, at the time of the twelve-month review, she was not yet participating in a transitional independent living case plan, nor had the juvenile court ordered a long-term foster care plan. It ruled that K.L. was not a nonminor dependent in January 2012, and that the juvenile court did not err in holding the twelve-month review hearing. Because K.L. was an adult at the time of the review hearing, and parents cannot have custody over adult children, the appellate court also ruled that the juvenile court did not err in terminating the mother’s reunification services.

Thomas Huguenor is a divorce and child custody lawyer certified by the State of California. For more than 35 years, he has represented people in San Diego finding their way through the California divorce process. Contact us today online or at (858) 458-9500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12) Extending Foster Care Benefits FACT SHEET (PDF file), California Department of Social Services, June 5, 2011

More Blog Posts:

Juvenile Court May Exercise Jurisdiction Over a Child Even Without Parental Negligence or Abuse - In re Maricela H., San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, December 6, 2012

Parent's Drug Use, Tardiness to School are Insufficient to Show Risk of Imminent Harm to a Child in a Dependency Proceeding, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, November 29, 2012

California Supreme Court Affirms Adjudication of Dependency of Two Children Due to Sibling's Death in a Car Accident: Los Angeles Co. Dep't of Children and Family Svcs. v. William C, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, October 18, 2012

Photo credit: christilper from morguefile.com.