For more information contact:
Leecia Welch, 510-835-8098, ext. 3023
National Center for Youth Law
For Reed Smith LLP:
Peter Greenley 415.659.5669
Judge Calls Sudden Cut in Benefits “Great Injustice”
(June 15, 2006, Sacramento, CA) – The Sacramento County Superior Court has ruled that the California Department of Social Services must immediately restore adoption assistance benefits to nine special needs children in Humboldt County whose benefits were abruptly reduced just days before Christmas 2004.
The Court ruled that “… in order to avoid a great injustice and further the important public policy objective of the Aid for Adoption of Children Act,” the children’s benefits must be restored to the original amount agreed upon by state representatives. The state Adoption Assistance Program is intended to help provide foster children with the safety and stability of permanent homes.
Benefits for the nine former foster children, all of whom have suffered abuse or neglect and require high-level mental health care, were cut by $270 a month. The children currently range in age from 7 to 17, and receive the benefits until age 18.
Humboldt County, with the State’s approval, made the cuts despite promises made at the time of adoption that the families’ benefits could not be lowered without their consent. This representation was reinforced in an informational brochure provided to the parents.
“The Petitioner parents reasonably relied on these statements in organizing their finances, making professional/career decisions, and making arrangements for the needs of their families,” said Judge Jack Sapunor in his June 6 decision. “ … Petitioners undertook an enormous legal, moral, social and financial obligation by adopting children who otherwise likely would have remained in foster care …”
“This order is a great victory for our clients,” said attorney Angie Schwartz of the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), which represented the families together with Reed Smith LLP, a top-25 international law firm. “It means that the state of California must fulfill its promise to these families just as the adoptive parents fulfill their promises to the state every day by providing their children with permanent and loving homes.”
“These adoptive parents are heroes in every sense of the word,” said Leecia Welch, another NCYL attorney who worked on the case. “Thanks to their adoptive parents, our young clients have been given the chance to have the sort of childhood all children should have.”
Welch said the county’s unilateral decision to reduce the families’ adoption assistance benefits has jeopardized the progress the adoptive families had made with their children and could have resulted in significant harm to the children had they not been restored.
“We are very pleased by the Court’s decision,” said Ted Ting, an Oakland-based partner at Reed Smith LLP. “We now fully expect the State to honor the promises made to our families in its presentation of the Adoption Assistance Program, as well as other families who received similar representations.” Ting and Reed Smith associate Michael George participated in the case on a pro bono basis.
Brian Nunn, the adoptive father of two of the nine children in the case, said, “The Court’s order is incredibly important because it means we will be able to provide our children with the services and supports they need. Our children are the lights of our lives, but we simply do not have the resources to meet their needs without adequate adoption assistance benefits.”