Information for Foster Youth

If you are a foster youth in the State of California, you should know about your rights and protections available to you under the law.  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.  You will also find a list of additional resources at the end, which includes several organizations in California who are here to help you.

 

Foster Youth Rights in Dependency Court

 

You and Your Attorney

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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 state’s Ombudsman’s Office, Advokids.

 

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 and find a directory of mailing addresses for all juvenile court presiding judges in California (send the form to the judge in your county).

Another recourse if you encounter problems with your attorney is you can contact the State Bar of California' 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.   After the age of 10, you must be at your court hearings unless you clearly tell your lawyer you do not want to go.  Your lawyer or social worker must provide you with a way to get to court.

You can and should be involved in creating your case plan.  You have the right to see and have a copy of your case plan and court records without a court order.  California Rule of Court 5.552(b)(1).

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)“. The form will explain to the judge that circumstances in your life have changed and 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.

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.
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Know Your Rights While You are in Foster Care

For specific information about other important rights when you are a dependent in foster care, 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

 

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