California Rejects Bid to Restore Funding for Child Welfare Courts

Next year’s California state budget does not include increased funding for child welfare courts, foiling efforts by the California legislature to decrease the overwhelming caseloads faced by lawyers for foster youth.

The California State Assembly and Senate had both signed off on a modest pot of money earmarked to help children’s legal representatives reduce caseloads that have grown to more than 400 children per lawyer in some counties.

The state would have doled out $11 million in funding over the next year to help lower caseloads in child-welfare courts, followed by $22 million in the second year and $33 million in the third year.

However, that money vanished in the final version of the budget that was sent to the Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for approval on Sunday.

Negotiations over the budget will commence this week, and the San Francisco Chronicle is among the voices urging the governor and legislature to provide relief to lawyers that face sky-high caseloads and frequent turnover

According to Kendall Marlowe, executive director of the National Association of Counsel for Children, the situation in California is not unique. Though caseloads and support vary from state to state, funding for legal counsel for foster children across the nation is frequently threatened by the budgetary process and the perception of legal representation for foster youth as less important than other parts of the judicial system.

“As adults, we would never tolerate walking into our attorney’s office and being told to wait behind 50 or 60 other people,” Marlowe said. “That’s what we’re asking foster children to accept.”

The lack of dedicated counsel has plagued California dependency courts for years. In a three-part series in 2008, San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá exposed a rapid-fire court process, with hundreds of cases decided each day while parents and foster youths met their respective lawyers for the first time just minutes before proceedings.

A 2008 report from the California Judicial Council suggested that the workload for children’s representatives should be capped at 188 cases, with 77 deemed the optimal number. Unfortunately, the current caseload in Los Angeles County and many other counties across the state is nowhere near that number.

The Children’s Law Center, which provides legal representation for children in foster care in Los Angeles and Sacramento counties, is facing caseloads of more than 300 children per lawyer in Los Angeles County, according to Interim Policy Director Susan Abrams. Current funding is not covering the increased number of child welfare cases that are heading through the child welfare court system.

Excessive caseloads have been shown to negatively impact the quality and continuity of service, and with current caseloads, attorneys like the Children’s Law Center’s Jennifer McCartney are finding it difficult to keep up.

“We don’t have time to dive in deep right now,” McCartney said. “With the current caseload, it’s hard to be there for our clients: to find out what’s going on in their life, to talk to their caregiver, to their therapist.”

With a workload that fluctuates between 200 and 400 cases, McCartney is in court every day of the week and rarely has time to prepare for the next day’s cases until the night before.

Michael Nash, the presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s juvenile courts, describes the elevated caseloads as a factor that is placing a high degree of pressure on the courts as they make critical decisions for foster children.

“When you look at the dependency court, we only have so many minutes in each day to make numerous life-changing decisions about the children,” Nash said.

Budget cuts have hit Nash’s court in recent years, from slashed operating hours to reductions in the number of juvenile court referees. And among attorneys for foster youth, high caseloads and long hours have contributed to significant turnover, he said.

Understanding the complex child-welfare courts often requires a steep learning curve for lawyers representing foster children, according to Nash. “There are no shortcuts, no magic pills. It takes time, energy and hard work to work within the individual needs of each child that comes through the court.”

Abrams said that the Children’s Law Center and other advocates for foster youth will keep pushing for additional funding in the next budget cycle.

“The voice of foster children not being heard in budgetary process, and this is not something we’re going to give up on,” Abrams said.

Jeremy Loudenback is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 277 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

14 Comments

  1. It’s the power that legislators have as budget makers. Most often called the power of the purse. And taking away from judicial powers is going in the appropriate direction due to the fact that that branch is very very much out of order.

    They/courts all have wide discretionary latitude, and all three branches will tell you that. And that is really, relating to all government 3 branches, the biggest problem. Because that’s the only action they perform regarding the out of order tilted to and overlapped with tyranny political condition of judicial branch’ county districts.

    Those judicial politically unfaithful ones make rulings on people’s lives which said rulings nearly always reveal they’re thinking politically-corrupt, that is, they order governance’ actions executed which will be beneficial advantages profitable and maintain and more empower their branch of government which is their place in life. Lawyers especially the ones we are talking about in this article have no power against that system and quickly become part of it because they are. Part of it. And the fact that they need the money; those lawyers are not the best and are probably the worst and what they get paid for these cases indicate that. I know their humble payment one told me while I litigated opposing that lawyer, then another who both’s official positions were in political union with the courts. And a judge Petrucelli confirmed that in open court, he said: “This is an officer of the court!”.

    The court controls everything and the judicial’ body-politic has previously been explained.

    Basically. As it is. We don’t need these people. If we cut judicial government in half we will be no worse off. Possibly better. But that won’t happen unless people grow up and stop succumbing to the crying crybabies and powers political or whoever that are heard over the air influencing hysteria making them think “Something’s gotta be done now, OR YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!, or, the sky will fall.”

  2. >CA Parents, who have been accused of Child Abuse>
    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1dC7q1UCEf8Jk864ecVlVnKHvIPghRyuU70keGpVoyKQ/viewform
    Already some of our State Family Advocates, who are active in both the Legislative Process and “bugging” the AGENCY Power, have used the graphs created and They have noticed. Where before, they were ignored.
    Please note, all Personal information and Text comments have been omitted, since personal information is “strictly confidential” and comments need to be “carefully” reviewed.
    Be that “One Small Voice” and share your opinion.
    Example of the Early Survey Responses for California>> http://rscrapz.com/rSurveys/CA/0View_Data/06_15_14_CA_RespEDI.pdf

  3. I can’t say I’m up-to-date on Cali’s child welfare courts, nor can I say I’ve performed my own research in the state, so don’t quote me as a Cali guru, but the Divorce Corp Documentary from Cali was rather concerning. Also, a Cali news statistic from about 1-2 years ago showing that a divorced parent who reports child abuse against their ex is are far more likely to lose custody than the accused, is a real flag raiser. If the questions in this presentation can’t be answered by current state reports, then theres a chance that in fact removing perverse financial government incentives will in fact reduce caseloads, removing the incentive to maintain conflict, prolong litigation, overuse services, solicit unnecessary psychotropic medications, and wrongfully terminating parental rights for the enormous amount of funds to be had in the adoption/foster care slave trade so commonly alleged throughout the country, but so consistently ignored or inadequately addressed by auditors.

    My DCFS Quality Improvement Committee Presentation on Proposed Child Trafficking Audit Point Indcators.http://www.utah.gov/pmn/files/101621.pdf

    • If the questions in this presentation can’t be answered by current state reports, then theres a chance that in fact removing perverse financial government incentives will in fact reduce caseloads, removing the incentive to maintain conflict, prolong litigation, overuse services, solicit unnecessary psychotropic medications, and wrongfully terminating parental rights for the enormous amount of funds to be had in the adoption/foster care slave trade so commonly alleged throughout the country, but so consistently ignored or inadequately addressed by auditors.

      THIS STATEMENT IS THE MATTER OF FACT TRUTH! DCFS=Department of Children for Sale.
      the government needs to realize that the funds are a cash grab and money is not being used for REUNIFICATION.

  4. stop removing the children for the adoption incentives and this will slow the attorney’s having to herd parents like cattle through the court process! Lets do away with the adoption incentives and social workers would not be willing to remove children at the drop of a hat! These are families whom are treated like cattle…herded through a broken system

  5. Good Morning Ms. Martin

    The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has received and reviewed your inquiry regarding the Substantial Risk allegation conclusion from 2002. Based on our review, we have determined that Substantial Risk was not reportable to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) and therefore there are no services that my section can offer you at this time. The only information that is reviewable are those matters that have been reported to the DOJ CACI Database.

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions and/or concerns.

    Michael D Watrobski, MA MFT

    Chief Grievance Review Officer

    Office of Appeals Management

    County of Los Angeles

    Department of Children and Family Services

    501 Shatto Pl Suite 300

    Los Angeles, CA 90020

    213 739-6265 (

    213 351-0769 7 fax

  6. If DCFS focused on real cases of abuse, the caseloads would drop… too many good parents are lied about to remove children.. I personally had a fraudulent CACI indexing number, fraudulent minute orders… and CRIMINALS have my son in Los Angeles.. one KILLED another person drinking and driving, both tested dirty on demand for DCFS.. but I filed a complaint.. they used retaliation against me for a complaint lodged 8/3/12- and removed my son from me on 11/14/12- by lies perjury, illegally suppressed evidence misrepresented medical conditions such as a severe spinal cord injury.. was documented as simple back problems.. defending clients isn’t what happens… the attorneys burying you with the department rather than helping, they don’t work for the client.. they bully them into services

    • this goes on all the time Lori and sad but true and the social workers will continue to remove children because of the adoption incentives. Retired social worker Julian Dominguez whom co authored a book with another social worker Melinda Murphy “a culture of fear” tells a lot! Julian Dominguez retired after 18 years in Los Angeles department of social services, he was not fired he retired and tells of the broken system and the adoption incentives is like feeding fish (our children) to a pool full of hungry fish (CPS)

  7. According to Astrid Heger MD, Director of the VIP HUB at USC Medical Center (a forensic Violence Intervention Program), 30% of the children detained by DCFS should not be in the system at all.

    As court watchers we witness safe, fit, loving parents targeted by DCFS to lose their children on trumped up ridiculous (WIC 300(c) which are too often vague charges of “emotional abuse of their children” that are NOT backed up by ANY real facts or evidence. The children are literally kidnapped from safe parents with no evidence of wrong doing… with layers and layers of hearsay, feelings and hunches and too often,… fabrications by writers of those reports that are egregious violations of Government Code 280.21, regarding social workers who lie in their reports to Superior Court Judges!

    Perversely children in the hands of batterers, suffering severe neglect or sexual abuse are too often ignored and left in the hands of abusers. As the body count of young children rises in this country… we hope Regular Joe Taxpayer wakes up and realizes how his hard earned money is being squandered to devastating effect on American children.

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