National Center for Youth Law


Federal Appeals Court Reverses Preliminary Injunction in Katie A. Case; Remands to Lower Court for More Findings on Mandated Services

March 23, 2007

Pasadena, CA –  A federal appeals court today reversed a preliminary injunction requiring intensive mental health services for tens of thousands of foster children. However, the appeals court affirmed California’s obligation to provide effective services to these children, and upheld the lower court’s finding that these children face the grave harm of unnecessary institutionalization without the injunction.  The appeals court remanded the case on the narrow issue of whether the lower court rightly mandated specific types of services.

The decision comes in Katie A. v. Bonta, a class action lawsuit filed in 2003 that challenges the long-standing practice of confining abused and neglected children with mental health problems in costly hospitals and large group homes instead of providing services that would enable them to stay in their homes and communities.

The appeals court’s decision puts on hold federal District Court Judge A. Howard Matz’s preliminary injunction requiring that wraparound services and Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) be provided statewide to children in foster care or at risk of out-of-home placement. Wraparound and TFC are intensive home and community based services that allow most children to remain at home or in a home-like setting.

 “This is a victory in all but one respect,” said Robert Newman, plaintiffs’ lead counsel and an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We demonstrated to the district court that existing services do not meet the needs of foster children, and that wraparound and TFC are medically necessary. On remand, we simply have to connect the dots between the present lack of individualized services and the demonstrated effectiveness of wraparound and TFC.”

“Our greatest concern,” said Patrick Gardner, co-counsel in the case and deputy director of the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), “is that the decision will delay the day when foster youth will receive the mental health care they need and deserve. Sadly, as a result of this decision, more children will be removed from their homes because of unmet mental health needs.”

Co-counsel Melinda Bird, attorney with the ACLU of Southern California agrees. “No one questions that foster children are not getting the care they need, or that failing to provide adequate individualized care puts children in harm’s way.”

In his earlier decision, Judge Matz found “substantial evidence” that the two key services he instructed the state to provide, wraparound services and TFC, “… actually save the State money, compared to alternatives involving institutionalization.” Adding these services to California’s Medi-Cal program will also bring in additional dollars because the federal government reimburses the state for about half of the cost.

There are more than 80,000 children in foster care in California. Various studies find that from 70 percent to 84 percent of them experience a mental health problem. The state’s current approach to addressing their needs through institutional care is costly. For example, the state is spending $540 million to maintain 4,500 children in high-level group home placements that experts testified could be avoided by offering appropriate services in the community.

“We’re confident,” concluded Newman, “that we can make the showing required by the appeals court that foster children are not receiving effective mental health services. And, we are prepared to demonstrate to the trial court that wraparound and TFC are essential services for the health and well-being of California’s foster youth.”

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