Los Angeles County pledged Tuesday to improve the way social workers monitor the homes of foster children living with relatives, settling a lawsuit filed by children’s advocates who said the county had failed to comply with health and safety requirements.
Under the settlement, the county promised to uphold state and federal rules on checking the suitability of relatives’ homes for foster children. The county also agreed to introduce spot-checks to ensure that the assessments are done correctly.
Lawyers who filed the suit hailed the agreement as a way to ensure that foster children growing up with relatives are in clean, safe homes and not living in squalor. About 11,500 foster children in Los Angeles County live with relatives, a number that has increased as the county has tried to reduce placements in group homes.
“The goal is that we do not shut out relatives by having these higher standards.... But those kids living with relatives have a right to be living somewhere safe,” said Carole Shauffer, executive director of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco and a lawyer who worked on the case.
Dr. David Sanders, the director of the county Department of Children and Family Services, said that even before the lawsuit, his agency had begun to look for ways to improve the way social workers evaluate the homes of foster relatives. The department, he said, has set up a special team that will eventually include 72 social workers to assess homes before children are allowed to live there and check on them periodically.
“It’s work that we would have focused on anyway,” Sanders said.
The settlement was approved 4 to 0 by the Board of Supervisors.
Under state and federal laws, social workers must ensure that children have their own beds and that homes meet safety requirements, such as having safety-release windows in case of a fire.
Jeffrey Spitz, a lawyer who worked on the case without payment, said he and other lawyers on the case will receive quarterly data from the county on how often such foster homes fail those standards.
“The hope is that this improves the quality of children’s lives,” Spitz said.
The Rev. David Wheeler, a children’s advocate and the sole plaintiff in the case, said he was hopeful that county social workers would abide by the agreement but added that they would need careful scrutiny.
“It’s a great settlement,” said Wheeler, pastor of First Christian Church of Antelope Valley in Lancaster. “But we’ll need to keep watching.”