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In re A.F.

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

August 27, 2013

In re A.F., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. A.F., Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
ALAMEDA COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES AGENCY, Defendant and Appellant.

Trial court: Alameda County No. 160539 Superior Court Trial judge: Hon. David Matthew Krashna

Tamara Wiggins Steele, Deputy County Counsel and Donna Ziegler, County Counsel, for Petitioner and Appellant Alameda County Social Services Agency.

East Bay Children’s Law Offices, Roger C. Chan, Executive Director, C. Joy Ricardo, Managing Attorney and Kevin Nieto; Valerie N. Lankford under appointment by the Court of Appeal for Respondent A.F.

NEEDHAM, J.

Former juvenile court dependents who were placed in nonrelative guardianships may be eligible to receive public assistance until the age of 21 if they meet certain educational or vocational requirements and continue under the care of their guardian. Here, we address the options available to the court when the guardian dies and an otherwise-eligible adult youth seeks to maintain those public assistance payments. We conclude the statutory scheme authorizes the appointment of a successor guardian.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A.F. was declared a dependent of the juvenile court shortly after her birth on December 31, 1993, and was removed from her parents’ custody. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 300.)[1] In 1996, the court appointed a nonrelative legal guardian for A.F. under section 366.26 and dismissed the dependency case, retaining jurisdiction over the guardianship under section 366.4. A.F.’s guardian received Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC) on A.F.’s behalf, administered by appellant Alameda County Social Services Agency (Agency). (§ 11400 et seq.)

A.F. turned 18 on December 31, 2011. On that date, A.F., her Agency social worker and her guardian executed a Mutual Agreement for Extended Foster Care, which included a Transitional Independent Living Plan and Agreement requiring A.F. to work toward three goals—finishing high school, enrolling in college and preparing to get a job. A.F.’s guardian continued to receive AFDC-FC benefits under section 11405, subdivision (e) (now (e)(1))[2], which allows certain nonminors who were placed in guardianships to remain eligible for AFDC-FC payments until age 21.

These extended AFDC-FC payments continued until A.F.’s guardian died in a fire in May 2012. Agency terminated the benefits, taking the position that no further payments could be made on A.F.’s behalf because the guardian was the only authorized payee under the statute. A.F. remained in the guardian’s family home along with the guardian’s adult biological daughters (whom A.F. considers her sisters) and graduated from high school in June 2012. She began attending college out of state in the autumn of 2012.

In July 2012, A.F. filed a Request to Return to Juvenile Court Jurisdiction and Foster Care (Form JV-466), in an effort to secure extended AFDC-FC benefits for herself. In letter briefing filed in support of the petition, A.F.’s counsel argued sections 303 and 388 authorized the resumption of the court’s dependency jurisdiction for the limited purpose of making the orders necessary to effectuate the payment of extended benefits under sections 11401, subdivision (b)(4), 11403, and 11405, subdivision (e). Agency opposed the request on the ground the statutory provisions cited did not apply to a nonminor who was no longer a dependent of the juvenile court and was no longer the subject of a guardianship, A.F.’s guardianship having terminated by virtue of her majority and/or the guardian’s death.

The trial court concluded A.F. remained eligible for AFDC-FC benefits as a nonminor dependent or nonminor former dependent. (See §§ 11400, subds. (v) & (aa); 11403, 11405.) It issued an order giving Agency the authority to designate one of the deceased guardian’s adult daughters as A.F.’s substitute caregiver, or to allow A.F. to be her own payee. Agency appeals, arguing (1) A.F. is ineligible to reenter foster care because she was no longer a dependent at the time of her 18th birthday; (2) there is no statutory authority for appointing a successor caregiver or ordering the payments to be made to A.F. directly; (3) the juvenile court exceeded its authority by ordering Agency to expend funds for A.F.’s support; and (4) A.F. failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. We agree the trial court’s order as issued cannot stand, but remand the case so the court can consider the appointment of a successor guardian.

DISCUSSION

Agency’s appeal raises purely legal issues based on undisputed facts, making our standard of review de novo. (In re Darlene T. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 929, 937 (Darlene T.); see In re R.C. (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 741, 748 (R.C.).) Though the facts on which the arguments are based are relatively straightforward, the underlying statutory scheme is not.

By way of background, the federal government offers financial support to foster care providers by making block grants to the states through the AFDC-FC program. (42 U.S.C. ยงยง 622(a), 670.) California receives AFDC-FC block grants, supplements the federal grants with state funds, and distributes the money through the state Department of Social Services and ...


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