Proposed Class Action Settlement Averts the Danger of Homelessness For Young People Aging Out of Foster Care
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2011

The Legal Aid Society and Lawyers for Children, along with the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, filed a lawsuit in New York state court Tuesday on behalf of a class of foster care youth against The City of New York and the Commissioner of The New York Administration for Children's Services, concerning class members' rights to secure adequate housing prior to discharge from foster care. We are pleased to announce that, in an effort to avoid protracted litigation, a proposed settlement has been reached, which, subject to Court approval, will provide significant procedures and relief to prevent young people aging out of foster care from being discharged into homelessness or other unsuitable housing conditions.

The Legal Aid Society, Lawyers for Children and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP have engaged in lengthy and detailed negotiations with the City to revamp the City's procedures in order to ensure that young people aging out of foster care are not discharged to homelessness. The principal issue has been the City's systematic failure to provide young people aging out of foster care with the services to which they are entitled to prevent them from becoming homeless. As part of the proposed settlement of the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of four young people aging out of foster care, the City will maintain a unit devoted to this population, initiate training for foster care agencies, significantly revise its procedures for helping youth find stable housing and improve their access to services.

"An alarming number of young people are being discharged from foster care into homelessness," said Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights practice at The Legal Aid Society. "Each year, more than 800 young people ages 18 to 21 are discharged from foster care in New York City and many of these young people have not been receiving the services they are entitled to under the law."

Karen Gutheil, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that "unless these vulnerable young people receive the assistance in transitioning to independence that they desperately need, many of them are at immediate risk of homelessness."

The lawsuit, captioned D.B. et al. v. Richter, also seeks to ensure that the Administration for Children Services provides supervision and services, as required by law, to young people who are not yet 21, but who have already been discharged from foster care. Karen Freedman, Executive Director of Lawyers For Children, explained that "these vulnerable young adults who have left foster care to live on their own, will now have access to the critical and often life-saving services that ACS has agreed to provide under the terms of the settlement."

The attorneys from The Legal Aid Society include Tamara Steckler, Karen Fisher Gutheil, Nancy Rosenbloom, and Kim Forte. The attorneys from Lawyers for Children include Karen J. Freedman, Betsy Kramer, and Priti Kataria. The attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP include James W.B. Benkard, Sharon Katz, Scott B. Luftglass, and David C. Pitluck.




City to Assist Teens Leaving Foster Care
The Wall Street Journal
By Tamer El-Ghobashy
October 20, 2011

New York City has agreed to a series of foster care overhauls after two years of negotiations with attorneys who accused it of allowing teenagers to fall into homelessness after leaving the system at age 18.

The proposal on calls on the city Administration for Children's Services to create a dedicated unit for foster children who turn 18, when they are required to begin living independently.

It also would require the city to collect data on young adults just out of the system and, for the first time, share it with outside advocates for children. The city would also begin helping former foster children older than 21 find housing in some situations.

The plan represents an attempt to help a vulnerable population that poses multiple challenges for the city and social service agencies. Studies have shown children leaving foster care are far less likely to be employed and have a high-school diploma, and far more likely to be arrested and abuse drugs.

The pact settles a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Legal Aid Society, Lawyers for Children and the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP on behalf of four people who left the foster care system and were at-risk of losing housing. The suit was filed to ensure the city would carry out the agreement, officials said. A judge must still approve the settlement.

The lawsuit contended that ACS didn't adhere to state laws that mandate children as young as 14 years old be prepared for independent living once it is clear they will not be adopted or reunited with family members. Teenagers didn't get adequate information about low-cost and government subsidized housing options, the suit said.

The agency had trouble tracking such individuals and was not able to "account for the post-foster care whereabouts of the majority of young people under the age of 21 who were discharged to their own responsibility," the suit said.

In fact, the suit said, large numbers of youth were aging out of foster care and into homelessness or non-permanent housing. Citing independent studies and testimony from officials with the city's Department of Homeless Services, the suit said 18% to 26% of the young people in homeless shelters were once in foster care.

Separately, a 2008 City Council study showed about 29% of homeless young adults surveyed said they were, at some point, in the city's foster care system.

State law requires agencies such as ACS to to monitor those leaving foster care until they are 21. They must not be living in homeless shelters, hotels or single room occupancy residences.

Between 800 and 1,100 teenagers a year are being prepared for the transition away from foster care, according to ACS statistics cited in the lawsuit.

Under theproposed settlement, ACS will better track the youth starting at age of 17 and through 21. The data collected on them will be shared with youth advocates on a monthly and quarterly basis.

Patricia Bath, a spokeswoman for The Legal Aid Society, said ACS and the plaintiffs in the suit had been negotiating for two years and settled in order to avoid "protracted litigation." She said the lawsuit was filed, as part of the agreement with the city, "to provide for court enforcement if problems develop down the road."

Ronald Richter, the ACS Commissioner, said the negotiations involved a "spirit of collaboration" between ACS and the youth's attorneys.

"We are committed to helping young people leaving foster care achieve successful adulthood, which includes appropriate stable housing," Mr. Richter said in a statement. "The proposed settlement reflects that goal."

Dr. William Meezan, the director of policy and research at Children's Rights, an advocacy group seeking child welfare system reform, said studies have shown "how awful the outcomes can be for kids who age out of foster care."

"The numbers are staggering in terms of the percentage of kids who end up homeless and hungry," he said.

Dr. Meezan said it's critical that proper procedures are in place for putting foster children in independent homes once they leave the system.

"The state has a special relationship with these children," he said.

"They have taken custody of them. The State has an official responsibility to take care of these kids."




October 20, 2011
The New York Times
A Deal to Help Foster Youths Find Housing By
Mosi Secret

New York City has reached an agreement on a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that claims the city allows older children to leave foster care only to become immediately homeless. Each year, roughly 800 to 1,100 people age 18 to 21 are discharged from foster care to fend for themselves, the plaintiffs complained in the class-action suit.

There is no current data on the youths’ housing after foster care, but previously the city’s Department of Homeless Services and the City Council estimated that more than a quarter of youths discharged from foster care because of their age end up homeless almost immediately, according to the complaint, which accuses the city of shirking its responsibilities to those youths.

The city is required by state law to supervise and assist in providing housing for people who have left foster care until they reach age 21.

The accord calls for the city to maintain a unit in the Administration for Children’s Services for those people, initiate training for foster care agencies, revamp its procedures for helping youths find stable housing and improve their access to services.

The agreement is the product of two years of negotiations among the Administration for Children’s Services, the Legal Aid Society and the advocacy group Lawyers for Children. The parties said they had agreed to settle to avoid protracted litigation, and they actually reached the agreement before the lawsuit was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday. The plaintiffs’ lawyers filed the suit to provide for court enforcement if problems develop down the road, said Pat Bath, the spokeswoman for Legal Aid. A judge has to approve the settlement before it goes into effect.

The four lead plaintiffs remain anonymous. Three are 21 years old and at risk of being homeless at discharge because they do not have stable housing lined up, according to the complaint. One is 20, has already been discharged and is at risk of becoming homeless, the complaint says.

“An alarming number of young people are being discharged from foster care into homelessness,” Tamara Steckler, the lawyer in charge of the juvenile rights practice at the Legal Aid Society, said in a written statement.

Ronald E. Richter, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, said in a written statement, “We are committed to helping young people leaving foster care achieve successful adulthood, which includes appropriate stable housing.”

Under the accord, the children’s services agency will develop permanent housing plans for youths living in foster care. It will work with foster care agencies to create the plans in time to find adequate housing. The city and the agencies will monitor the young adults discharged under the plans until they turn 21.

Children’s Services will also track and monitor data on their housing until they turn 21.

Also, a new unit in Children’s Services will oversee the foster care agencies’ adherence to the new requirements.




ACS Agrees to Better Protect Kids Aging Out of Foster Care
WNYC
By Tracie Hunte
October 21, 2011

The city has agreed to provide better services for children aging out of the foster care system, the Administration for Children’s Services vowed on Friday.

The agreement would settle a lawsuit between the city and child welfare advocacy groups that alleged the agency had failed to abide by a state laws that mandate children be prepared for independent living when they leave the system at age 18.

The proposed settlement comes after two years of negotiations between the ACS, Legal Aid and Lawyers for Children.

Karen Gutheil, an attorney with Legal Aid who worked on the case, said kids aging out of foster care can wind up up in single-room occuppency hotels, couch surfing or staying with a relatives that might end up turning them out.

“There are an alarming number of young people who are being discharged from foster care to inadequate and unlawful housing conditions because ACS has not been providing the assistance that they are required to do,” Gutheil said.

Under the agreement, ACS must maintain a special unit for children who turn 18. The agency must also initiate training for foster care agencies, update its procedures for helping young people find stable housing and improve their access to services.

“We are committed to helping young people leaving foster care achieve successful adulthood, which includes appropriate stable housing,” ACS Commissioner Ronald E. Richter said.

A judge must still sign off on the settlement before it takes effect.

One in 10 young people in New York City who left foster care in the mid-2000s entreated a homeless shelter within a year, according to a September report from the Center for an Urban Future. Within three years, that number doubled to one in five.




Settlement Aims to Find Housing for Youth Leaving Foster Care
The New York Law Journal
By Andrew Keshner
10-21-2011

The New York City Administration for Children's Services will take steps to insure that children aging out of foster care will have suitable housing once they are discharged, under a proposed settlement announced yesterday.

If approved, the settlement will avert the litigation of a putative class action suit that the Legal Aid Society, Lawyers for Children and Davis Polk & Wardwell filed this week in Manhattan Supreme Court, D.B. v. Richter, 402159-2011. The settlement agreement will be presented to Acting Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey D. Wright.

The agency is bound by statutes and case law to help children leaving foster care between the ages of 18 and 21 find adequate permanent housing, but many still wind up in unsuitable housing or homeless.

A 2008 report commissioned by the City Council estimated that almost 30 percent of homeless youth were at one time in the city's foster care system.

To ensure that ACS is meeting its obligations, the settlement, among other things, would establish procedures that foster care agencies must follow when preparing youths to live on their own.

It also would require ACS to make training available to the foster care agency workers to help youths aiming to find their own housing.

ACS is establishing a new unit to ensure compliance with the requirements and establish guidelines for supervising youth who opt to find housing on their own before they turn 21. The proposed settlement caps about three years of negotiation, said Betsy Kramer, director of public policy and special litigation projects at Lawyers for Children.

"We think this will help tremendously," she said. "What we hope it will accomplish is that no young person will leave foster care without a safe, stable, permanent place to live and without the supervision and assistance they need and identification of services in the community that will help them successfully transition into adulthood."

The problems facing youth aging out of foster care are detailed in the complaint, which has four named plaintiffs. The complaint notes that while affordable housing is difficult to find in New York City, there are several alternatives tailored for youths who are leaving foster care but cannot afford open market rents.

But, the complaint continues, "[B]ecause of Defendant's lack of planning, repeated failures and imposition of unnecessary barriers, foster care youth are systematically denied the ability to access or complete the processes that would allow them to make use of these alternatives."

"An alarming number of young people are being discharged from foster care into homelessness. Each year, more than 800 young people ages 18 to 21 are discharged from foster care in New York City and many of these young people have not been receiving the services they are entitled to under the law," Tamara Steckler, attorney-in-charge of the juvenile rights practice at Legal Aid said in a statement.

James W.B. Benkard of Davis Polk & Wardwell lauded the proposed agreement. "Certainly there will be an improvement in procedures and monitoring and it will improve the lives and chances of children to function as adults in the big city," he said.

Mr. Benkard and others at the firm have worked pro bono on the case for the past three years.

Ronald E. Richter, the commissioner of Administration for Children's Services, said in a statement, "We are committed to helping young people leaving foster care achieve successful adulthood, which includes appropriate stable housing. The proposed settlement reflects that goal and the spirit of collaboration between Lawyers for Children, Legal Aid, and the Administration for Children's Services.

The next court date is scheduled for Nov. 17.




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