Improving Child-Serving Courts and Systems

Public courts and systems that serve children—such as dependency and delinquency courts and child protection, child welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice systems—are capable of forever impacting a child’s life, for better or worse. Too often, children involved with these systems are traumatized by the experience itself, in addition to whatever underlying ordeals brought them into contact with these systems. CAI’s work in this regard seeks to ensure these courts and systems have appropriate resources, policies, and protocols to bring about positive experiences and outcomes for the children they serve.

CAI's work in this area includes the following:

  • In 2019, CAI is co-sponsoring AB 395 (B. Rubio), which would place a number of requirements on investigations of allegations of child abuse or neglect conducted by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and other agencies with oversight authority in certain community care facilities serving foster youth.
  • In 2019, CAI is sponsoring AB 465 (Eggman), which would establish a number of definitions to be used when tracking the involvement of youth in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
  • In 2019, CAI is sponsoring AB 859 (Maienschein), which would require the California Judicial Council to conduct a study on the appropriate caseload for judges who hear dependency cases.
  • In November 2018, CAI co-sponsored—along with the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, the Judicial Council of California, and the San Diego Office of the Public Defender—the Homeless Court Summit, a convening of professionals from across the country who work with Homeless Courts (programs that enable homeless defendants to resolve misdemeanor offenses and warrants). In addition to featuring interactive breakout groups and panel discussions focused on charting a course for the future of collaborative justice/problem solving courts, the event served as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Homeless Court, which began in San Diego. CAI, which for years operated the Homeless Youth Outreach Project, was instrumental in having the San Diego Homeless Court expand its program to include minor defendants.
  • In October 2018, CAI joined an amicus brief in support of defendants-appellees in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The litigation involves Philadelphia’s proposed continuation of Catholic Social Services’ (CSS) contract to provide in-home foster care services—so long as CSS complies with the city’s anti-discrimination requirements. CSS refused to do so, instead apparently preferring to cease providing in-home foster care services. Amici argued that CSS’s insistence on the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation violates not only the city’s contractual and regulatory requirements, but also the constitutional and statutory rights of children in the foster care system. Further, CSS’s insistence on the right to discriminate conflicts with federal and state law protecting child welfare. Amici urged the Court to affirm the District Court’s order denying CSS’ demand for immediate injunctive relief compelling the city to place foster children with it.
    The Third Circuit’s opinion in this proceeding is expected to be issued in 2019.
  • In July 2018, CAI joined an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs in B.K. v. McKay, a federal district court case filed in Arizona. CAI and the other amici argued in support of the use of Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to litigate institutional reform cases, such as those involving foster children, incarcerated youth, people with disabilities, immigrants in detention, prisoners, pre-trial detainees, women, and others when they challenged an unlawful policy or practice that threatened their well-being as a group.
    Defendants in the proceeding were asking the court to decertify a class of children in the care and custody of Arizona’s child welfare system because some putative class members may escape harm from the systemwide policies and practices to which they are all exposed. In response, amici argued that were courts to adopt this mistaken standard, virtually no Rule 23(b)(2) class could be certified, as an unlawful policy or practice will almost always cause differing degrees of actual injury to individual class members, and some may be lucky enough to avoid harm altogether. If such variations were sufficient to defeat class certification, systemwide relief from unconstitutional policies and practices would almost always be out of reach, and populations in the custody of the government would lose a vital tool for vindicating their rights.
  • In 2018, CAI supported SB 1391 (Lara) (Chapter 1012, Statutes of 2018), which repeals the authority of a prosecutor to make a motion to transfer a minor from juvenile court to adult criminal court if the minor was alleged to have committed certain serious offenses when he or she was 14 or 15 years old. In its support, CAI noted that court-involved youth are less likely to commit new offenses if they are given age-appropriate services, resources, and educational support available in the juvenile system. By prohibiting the transfer to adult court of youth ages 14 and 15, SB 1391 will help ensure that youth receive the treatment, counseling, and education they need to develop into healthy, successful adults.