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In re Corrine W.

January 22, 2009

IN RE CORRINE W., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY BUREAU OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
Y.C., DEFENDANT; CORRINE W., MOVANT AND APPELLANT.



Ct.App. 1/4 A115584. Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. J06-00168. Judge: Stephen F. Houghton, Commissioner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Werdegar, J.

We granted review to examine the lower courts' determination that a county bureau of children and family services need not pay for automobile liability insurance for a dependent minor in foster care. We affirm.

I. FACTS

Corrine W. was removed from her mother's custody at the age of 16, declared to be a dependent of the court (see Welf. & Inst. Code, § 300) and placed in foster care with a friend's family. When Corrine reached the age of 17, she was a senior in high school, had completed driver's education, passed the written driving test, received a provisional driver's permit and begun supervised driving practice. She encountered difficulty, however, in obtaining a driver's license. An adult must ordinarily sign a minor's license application, and the person who signs thereby assumes civil liability for any damages caused by the minor's driving. (Veh. Code, §§ 17701, 17707.) Corrine's foster parents and natural mother, unwilling to assume liability or to pay for her automobile liability insurance, declined to sign her application. California law also permits a child protective services worker to sign a foster child's application, without assuming personal liability, but only "if the minor files proof of financial responsibility . . . ." (Veh. Code, § 17701; see id., § 16430 et seq. [proof of financial responsibility].) Corrine did not file proof of financial responsibility, and the Contra Costa County Children and Family Services Bureau (hereafter the Bureau) would not pay for her insurance. Accordingly, the Bureau also declined to sign her license application.

Corrine challenged the Bureau's decision by filing a "motion to compel support services," asking the court, in effect, to order the Bureau to pay for her automobile liability insurance. In support of the motion, she cited Welfare and Institutions Code section 11460, which provides that "[f]oster care providers shall be paid a per child per month rate in return for the care and supervision of [each foster child] placed with them" (id., subd. (a)), and which defines "care and supervision" as including "food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child's personal incidentals, liability insurance with respect to a child, and reasonable travel to the child's home for visitation" (id., subd. (b), italics added). The court denied the motion. Corrine appealed, and the Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed. We granted review.

II. DISCUSSION

Corrine offers two arguments in support of her claim that the Bureau must pay for her automobile liability insurance. First, she argues the plain language of Welfare and Institutions Code section 11460, subdivision (b), compels payment.

Second, she contends the superior court has discretionary power to order payment under various statutes defining the courts' powers in dependency cases (id., §§ 202, subd. (a) [purpose of juvenile court law], 362, subd. (a) [powers of court with respect to dependent children], and 362.05 [dependent child's right to participate in extracurricular, enrichment and social activities]), and that the court abused its discretion in not ordering payment. Neither argument has merit.

A. Welfare and Institutions Code Section 11460

The first statute under which Corrine seeks payment for automobile liability insurance belongs to a coordinated set of federal and state statutes under which those governments offer financial support to foster care providers. The federal government makes block grants for this purpose to the states, and the states distribute the money to the ultimate recipients pursuant to plans developed jointly by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (hereafter the DHHS) and the responsible state agencies. (42 U.S.C. § 622(a).) The federal government provides this assistance through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC) program, established in title IV, part E, of the Social Security Act. (42 U.S.C. § 670 et seq.) California receives federal AFDC-FC block grants, supplements the federal grants with state funds, and distributes these monies through the state Department of Social Services (DSS) and county social services agencies. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, § 11460 et seq.)

To receive federal block grants under the AFDC-FC program, a state must, among other things, make "foster care maintenance payments." (42 U.S.C. §§ 671(a)(1), 672(a).) As relevant here, section 675(4)(A) of title 42 of the United States Code defines "foster care maintenance payments" as "payments to cover the cost of (and the cost of providing) food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child's personal incidentals, liability insurance with respect to a child, and reasonable travel to the child's home for visitation." (Ibid., italics added.)

The legislative history of Public Law No. 96-272 (June 17, 1980) 94 Stat. 500, which added this language to the United States Code in 1980, sheds no light on the meaning of the italicized phrase.*fn1 The California Legislature, to meet the state's obligations under federal law,*fn2 simply copied verbatim the federal definition of foster care maintenance payments.*fn3 Thus, California law provides that "[f]oster care providers shall be paid a per child per month rate in return for the care and supervision of the AFDC-FC child placed with them" (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 11460, subd. (a)), and then defines "care and supervision" (id., subd. (b)) precisely as federal law defines "foster care maintenance payments" (42 U.S.C. § 675(4)(A)). Accordingly, " '[c]are and supervision' includes food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child's personal incidentals, liability insurance with respect to a child, and reasonable travel to the child's home for visitation." (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 11460, subd. (b), italics added.)

Corrine argues the language just quoted requires the Bureau to pay for her automobile liability insurance. The argument fails for two reasons. First, Corrine has not sued the agency- the DSS - responsible for setting the basic monthly rate paid to foster care providers. Second, the relevant statutes do not in any event compel the DSS to include automobile liability insurance in the basic monthly rate.

The Legislature has designated the DSS as "the single organizational unit whose duty it shall be to administer a state system for establishing rates in the AFDC-FC program." (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 11460, subd. (a).) The Legislature has also codified the currently established rates. (Id., § 11461 et seq.) The Bureau argues that, because only the DSS can set the basic monthly rate for foster care, the DSS is a necessary party to any action seeking to compel a change in that rate. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 389 [joinder of necessary parties].) Indeed, insofar as Corrine's motion for support services in effect challenges the basic rate, that ...


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