Information for Foster Youth
If you are a foster youth in the State of California, you should know about the rights and protections available to you under the law.
You should also be aware of the duties and responsibilities your attorney (also referred to as minor's counsel) when it comes to representing your interests in court.
This section provides information regarding your rights while you are in the foster care system, information about your rights as you leave the foster care system, and what you can do if your rights are being violated. This section also briefly addresses your relationship with your attorney and what to do if you feel that your attorney is not acting in your best interest.
You will also find a list of additional resources at the end of the page, which includes several organizations in California who are here to help you.
Foster Youth Rights in Juvenile Dependency Court
You and Your Attorney
If you are a child in foster care, you should have a lawyer who has been appointed to represent you in juvenile court. Your lawyer must give you their contact information within a short time after being assigned to your case. As soon as you meet your lawyer, ask for their business card (including email address).
Your attorney should be able to answer your questions about court procedures and the laws. Email may be the best way to get ahold of your lawyer because they can check email in court. If you do not know who your lawyer is, call your social worker, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Foster Care, or Advokids.
Your Attorney is Supposed to be Notified by the County Prior to a Placement Change
As soon as the county case worker (or the agency) makes a decision with respect to your placement or a change in your placement, there is an obligation for that case worker/agency to notify your attorney PRIOR to the change. Your attorney is supposed to be provided with your new address, telephone number and name of the caregiver. If the requisite notice cannot be provided to your attorney before you are moved, the notification shall be provided no later than the close of the following business day. Welfare and Institutions Code §16010.6(a)
If there is going to be a placement change that results in separation of you and your sibling(s) who are currently placed together, your attorney and your siblings' attorney (if they attorney is not the same) must be notified of the separation no less than 10 calendar days prior to the planned change of placement so that the attorney(s) may investigate the circumstances of the proposed separation. If the intended separation is due to seven days notice given by a foster family agency, group home, or other foster care provider, the case worker/agency must provide notice to the attorney(s) by the end of the next business day after receipt of seven days notice from the provider. If exigent circumstances exist, the case worker/agency shall provide notice as soon as possible, but no later than the close of the first business day following the change of placement. Welfare and Institutions Code §16010.6(c)
If you were moved to a new foster home and did not want to be, please contact your attorney and see if s/he received notice of the move. You should feel free to contact your attorney any time a decision is made about your life that you are not happy about. Your attorney is there to advocate for you so call and see if s/he can do anything about your placement (by talking to the county case worker or filing the necessary papers in court).
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Reporting A Problem With Your Attorney
If you believe that your court-appointed attorney is not representing your interests, you can report problems or lodge complaints to the presiding judge of the juvenile court by using the “Request for Assistance with Court Appointed Attorney” form. You may find instructions for completing the form here. If you know your judge's name or department, you can address the letter to that judge and send your letter there. If you do not know who your judge is, try searching online for the supervising or presiding judge of the juvenile dependency court in the county your case is in. If you can't find out who that is, address your letter to "Supervising Juvenile Dependency Judge" and send it to the juvenile dependency court in your county.
Another recourse if you encounter problems with your attorney is you can contact the State Bar of California's Chief Trial Counsel and file a complaint for any unethical professional conduct. For more information, please click here.
Asking the Judge to Make Decisions About Your Life
When you are in foster care, the juvenile court judge makes decisions about your life. You have the right to attend all of your court hearings and speak to the judge to voice your opinion. Welfare and Institutions Code § 349
After the age of 10, you must be at your court hearings unless you clearly tell your lawyer you do not want to go. In certain counties, such as Los Angeles, the local rules of court require case workers to notify children four years or older of their right to appear at court hearings and provide transportation so that they can attend.
You can and should be involved in creating your case plan. You have the right to see and have a copy of your case file, which includes your case plan and court records. You do not need a court order and can go directly to the clerk's office and ask to see your case file. If you are having difficulty accessing your case file at the clerk's office, please click here.
If you are 12 years of age or older, you can review your case plan and receive information about your out-of-home placement. You and your attorney must be notified about any changes to your placement as soon as the court or your social worker makes a decision. If you are moved, call your attorney and let them know. You have a right to be heard by a judge about any initial or proceeding placement decisions. Welfare and Institutions Code § 399
In general, all of your case information should be confidential. The judge can only share records with someone who is not a party to your case if it is in your best interest to do so. If your judge wants to share any of your case information, he/she must hold a hearing and notify you and your attorney so you can be heard. Welfare and Institutions Code § 349
When your case is dismissed, the judge must ensure that you know how and where to get your records. Your case file includes information regarding why you were removed from your parents, what happened to you, and the actions of the court over the years. You can ask the court to seal your record when you turn 18 (or five years after your last juvenile court case has ended, whichever comes first). However, if you committed a felony, serious misdemeanor, or certain vehicle violations when you were 14 years of age or older, it is up to the court’s discretion whether to grant or deny your request to seal your records.
Changing an Existing Court Order (filing a JV-180)
If you do not like a judge’s decision, there are ways you can ask the court, county agency, or social worker to change it. You or your attorney will have to fill out a form called “Request to Change Court Order (Form JV-180)“. For information about the JV-180 and instructions on how to fill it out please click here. The JV-180 form is supposed to explain to the judge that circumstances in your life have changed and that you need the judge to make new decisions that will make your life better. You or your attorney must then take or mail copies of the completed form to the court clerk’s office. If you are having a problem with your attorney about filing a JV-180, please call Advokids.
The judge may ask the other people involved with your case if they think you have given the judge the kind of information he/she must have in order to change a decision. Then the judge will decide if you told him/her anything new and if the change you want the judge to make is good for you.
If the judge believes you have not told him/her anything new or believes that what you want is not good for you, the judge will not make any changes. The court clerk will send a written notice of the decision not to make any changes to you and all the people involved with your case.
If the judge believes that you did tell him/her something new and what you are asking for will make life better for you, the judge will schedule a court date for you. The court clerk will send a written notice of the decision to schedule a hearing and the date of the hearing to you and all the people involved with your case.
At that court date, everyone involved in your case will be present and allowed to speak. After everyone has spoken, the judge will make the final decision. The judge will make the changes you want only if he/she believes you have told the court something new and what you are asking for is good for you.
Siblings: Asking the Judge to Make Decisions About Your Relationship with Your Brothers or Sisters in Foster Care
If you are a foster child and have a brother or sister who is a dependent of the court (or in the custody of a parent who is before the court), you may ask the judge to do the following:
- make an order permitting visits,
- make an order placing you in the same home,
- make other orders that may be in the best interest of your brother or sister, and
- consider your relationship with your brother or sister when making decisions about him or her.
To make these requests of the court, you or your attorney will have to fill out a form called “Request to Change Court Order (Form JV-180)“. You or your attorney must then bring copies of the form to the court clerk’s office. The court clerk will send a written notice of any decision to schedule a hearing and the date of the hearing to you and all the people involved with your brother’s or sister’s case. At that court date, everyone involved in the case will be present and will be allowed to speak. After everyone has spoken, the court will consider all evidence and make a final decision. For more information, see our Sibling Placement and Visitation page.
Know Your Rights While You are in Foster Care
Welfare and Institutions Code section 16001.9 sets forth the rights all minors and nonminor dependents in foster care have. If any of your rights as a foster child/youth are being violated, you can inform your attorney. You can also contact the State Ombudman's Office, click here for more information.
A few of your specific rights are discussed in more detail below, please click on the relevant topic:
Know Your Rights as You Leave the Foster Care System
For specific information about other important rights when you are a dependent in foster care, please click on the relevant topic:
Resources for Foster Youth
- The California Foster Youth Bill of Rights (pdf).
(If you do not have Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader, click the "Adobe Reader" image at the bottom of the page to download it).
- California Youth Connection: Foster youth who identify local issues, learn about the legislative process and then use grassroots and community organizing to create real change in the system.
- California Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office: Focuses on foster youth rights and facts. Free Help Line: 1-877-846-1602
- California County Independent Living Program (ILP) Coordinators
- A listing of county ILP contacts (PDF).
- Legal Services For Children: Legal Services for Children provides free legal and social services to children and youth under 18 years old in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- National Center for Youth Law: A private, non-profit law office serving the legal needs of children and their families.
Legal Disclaimer: Advokids provides educational information and resources to those who use our website, call our hotline, or submit requests for information via the website. Any information provided may not be construed as the giving of legal advice to any person about a particular legal matter and should not be relied upon as the basis for taking a particular action or refraining from taking a particular action in any legal matter. If you want or need legal advice about a particular legal matter, you should consult a lawyer.