Friday, January 23, 2009
C.A.: Counties Need Not Pay for Foster Child’s Car Insurance
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the First District Court of Appeal’s conclusion that counties do not need to cover the cost of for automobile liability insurance for children in foster care.
A unanimous court concluded that car insurance is not essential to the care and supervision of foster children, and rejected a 17-year old foster child’s attempt to compel the Contra Costa County Children and Family Services Bureau to pay for her coverage.
The child, identified in the opinion as Corrine W., was removed from her mother’s custody at the age of 16 after she reported that her mother’s boyfriend had been molesting her since she was five years old.
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. But Corrine’s foster parents and natural mother were unwilling to sign Corrine’s driver’s license application and assume civil liability for any damages caused by her driving.
Although California law permitted a child protective services worker to sign Corrine’s application if she filed a proof of financial responsibility, Corrine did not, and the county’s Bureau of Child and Family Services also declined to sign her license application.
Corrine challenged the bureau’s decision by filing a “motion to compel support services,” requesting a court order compelling the bureau to pay for her automobile liability insurance.
She contended that car insurance was included in the list of expenditures set forth in Welfare and Institutions Code Sec.11460 for which her caregivers were entitled to payment.
Sec.11460 provides that foster 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, and 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.”
Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Stephen Houghton denied Corrine’s motion, reasoning that “[p]ublic funds are intended to provide the minor with the necessities,” and “[d]riving an automobile at age sixteen is not a necessity.” The appellate court agreed.
Writing for the state high court, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar explained that Corrine’s claim failed because her motion for support services essentially challenged the basic rate paid to foster care providers, but she had failed to join the state agency responsible for setting the rate paid to foster care providers, which was a necessary party to her lawsuit.
But even if the state agency were joined to the action, Werdegar reasoned Sec. 11460 did not require it to pay for Corrine’s automobile liability insurance.
Because federal and state appropriations for foster care are finite and must be shared by all foster care providers in the state, Werdegar explained the state Department of Social Services must exercise its judgment in the distribution of those limited resources.
Noting that many 17-year-olds do not drive because their parents forbid it, cannot afford it, or public transportation makes driving unnecessary, Werdegar reasoned that automobile insurance differed from food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, personal incidentals, which are reimbursable expenditures under state and federal welfare laws.
Although Werdegar acknowledged that the term “liability insurance,” as used in Sec. 11460 could allow the DSS to find that car insurance was included as an expense in the care and supervision of a foster child, she concluded that the term was not sufficiently precise to compel the agency to do so.
The case is In re Corrine W., S156898.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company