Know Your Rights!
FOSTER YOUTH RIGHTS
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN A SAFE, COMFORTABLE HOME WITH:
• Enough clothes and healthy food.
• Your own place to store your things.
• An allowance (if you are in a group home).
• A phone that you can use to make confidential call (unless a judge say you cannot).
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO:
• Be treated with respect.
• Go to religious services and activities of your choice send and get unopened mail (unless a judge says someone else can open your mail).
• Contact people who are not in the foster care system (like friends, church members, teachers, and others).
• Make contact with child welfare workers, attorneys, probation officers, CASAs, foster youth advocates and supporters, or anyone else involved with your case.
• Be told about your placement by your child welfare worker or probation officer.
NO ONE CAN:
• Lock you in a room or building (unless you are in a community treatment facility).
• Abuse you physically, sexually or emotionally for any reason.
• Punish you by physically hurting you for any reason.
• Look through your things unless they have a good and legal reason.
CONNECTION WITH A CARING ADULT:
• You have the right to identify and maintain relationships with appropriate people who are
important to you, as long as it's in your best interest. The intent of current law is that no child shall leave foster care without a permanent, caring relationship with an adult. Talk
to your child welfare worker or attorney about who is important to you.
YOU HAVE RIGHTS AT COURT TOO. YOU CAN:
• Go to court and talk to the judge.
• See and get a copy of your court report and your case plan.
• Keep your court records private, unless the law says otherwise.
• Be told by your child welfare worker or probation officer and your attorney about any
changes in your case plan or placement.
YOU HAVE HEALTH RIGHTS. YOU CAN:
• See a doctor, dentist, eye doctor, or talk to a counselor if needed.
• Refuse to take medicines, vitamins or herbs (unless a doctor or judge says you must).
YOU HAVE SCHOOL RIGHTS. YOU CAN:
• Go to school every day.
• Go to after-school activities right for your age and developmental level.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO SOME THINGS ON YOUR OWN. YOU CAN:
• Have your own emancipation bank account (unless your case plan says you cannot).
• Learn job skills appropriate for your age.
• Work, unless the law says you are too young manage the money you earn (if appropriate
for your age, developmental level and it’s in your case plan).
• Go to Independent Living Program classes and activities if you are old enough.
YOU HAVE FAMILY RIGHTS TOO. YOU CAN:
• Visit and contact your brothers and sisters (unless a judge says you cannot).
• Contact parents and other family members, too (unless a judge says you cannot).
YOU HAVE OTHER RIGHTS TOO. YOU CAN:
• Tell the judge how you feel about your family, lawyer, and child welfare worker.
• Tell the judge what you want to happen in your case.
• Have your own lawyer.
• Live with a family member if that would be a safe place.
• Call the Foster Care Ombudsman Office and Community Care Licensing at any time.
• Get help with school if you need it.
YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN SOCIAL ACTIVITIES:
• You have the right to participate in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, and
social activities such as church, school and community activities, sleep-overs with
friends, scouting and 4-H, without requiring criminal background checks of chaperones,
friends and friends' parents/supervisors.
If you feel you are being discriminated against because of your sex, race, color, religion, or for
any other reason, please contact the Foster Care Ombudsman Help-line at 1.877.846.1602. If you
are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth, your rights and protections include
not being subjected to discrimination or harassment on the basis of your actual or perceived
sexual orientation or gender identity. Call the Ombudsman Office if you need help with this.
ADDITIONAL FOSTER YOUTH RIGHTS
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO TALK TO THE JUDGE:
• You can talk to the judge yourself. You can write the judge a letter or attend your court
hearings and talk to the judge there. You can tell the judge how you feel about where you
are living, how you are being treated and if you want something to change.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE GOOD CARE IN YOUR PLACEMENT:
• Be placed with a relative first, if it is safe, before being placed in a foster home.
• Arrange for you to visit the foster home or group home before you are placed there, if
• Explain the reason for your placement so that you understand the reason for being
• Help you keep your cultural and ethnic identity.
• Make sure you are medically, emotionally, and educationally secure.
• Ask you what you would like for your future.
• Visit you every month.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CLOTHING ALLOWANCES:
• Foster youth should receive a clothing allowance once a year. The amount is usually
around $200 for older youth, but your child welfare worker may be able to get an
additional $100. This is money for extra clothing.
• Foster parents and group homes must buy you clothing throughout the year with the
money they receive for you.
• If you feel that your clothing allowance is not spent on you, you should inform your child
• If you need clothes in an emergency, talk to your child welfare worker. They may be able
to get you some emergency funds.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CONTACT WITH SIBLINGS:
• Visit and contact your brothers and sisters (unless a judge orders otherwise).
• Have a case plan that identifies how you and your family will keep in touch.
• When you are dismissed from foster care, your child welfare worker must give you the
addresses of your brothers and sisters if they are in foster care.
• If one of your siblings is waiting to be adopted, the judge can stop you from seeing each
other, but you CAN ask the judge for an order to allow you to visit.
• Have preference as a foster care home for your younger brothers and sisters who are still
in foster care. You must pass a criminal background check, complete training, and meet
all the requirements that regular foster parents who are not relatives are required to meet.
• Adopt your younger sibling. Your age may not matter if you are married and your
husband or wife agrees to adopt them too. You must have consent of the child’s parents,
or have the court terminate the parents’ rights. If the child is 12 years of age and older,
they must agree as well. For children with special needs, there are adoption assistance
payments so you may be able to obtain financial assistance if you adopt your sibling.
*NOTE: Your child welfare worker must try to place brothers and sisters in the same foster
home (unless it is not in your best interests). When this is not possible, the child welfare worker
must explain to the court why you are not living together and explain what he or she is doing to
place you together.
YOU HAVE RIGHTS IF YOU ARE SUSPENDED FROM SCHOOL:
• Receive services first and not be suspended for being late to class or skipping school.
• To have your behavior corrected by means other than suspension whenever possible.
• To not be suspended for more than five days at a time (unless the school recommends
• Your educational surrogate or caregiver has the right to know of your suspension and
meet with school officials about your suspension.
• If the school is recommending an expulsion, you have the right to a hearing with
witnesses, evidence and an attorney or other adult advocate. A three judge panel will hold
a hearing and this must be held within 30 days of the time the school stated you
misbehaved. The school must tell you the date of the hearing at least 10 days before they
hold the hearing.
• At the hearing, if you prove you did not do what they said or if you can prove that the
school did not follow the law, then you can avoid being expelled. For more information
about expulsions, visit the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights at:
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO HEALTH CARE:
• Medi-Cal until 21 years of age. If you were in foster care until age 18 and “aged out” of
care, then you can get free health care until your 21st birthday. In order to keep the health
care free, you must report your address once a year to the ILP office.
• If there was a break in your Medi-Cal coverage, you can go to your local social services
department and complete another application to get coverage again.
• You can access many health benefits with Medi-Cal including:
o Eyeglasses (one per year)
o Dental care (Braces are not covered, unless they are medically necessary)
o Family planning services and supplies (birth control, condoms, etc.)
o Prescribed medication
o Hospital care
o Doctor visits
o Screening for health needs
o And much more!
*NOTE: If you move to another state, you may not be able to take your free health care with
you. Call Medi-Cal before you move to find out what benefits are available in that state.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES:
• During your comprehensive medical screen, your doctor should ask you about mental
health issues. If you think you have an eating disorder, severe depression or are suicidal,
then you have a right to be evaluated to see if you qualify for services.
• If you discover that you have any mental health issues, then you have a right to get help
for anything that is medically necessary. Medically necessary means that your ability to
function has been impaired.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO FAMILY PLANNING SERVICES:
• Medi-Cal covers all family planning services including birth control and abortions. If you
don’t have Medi-Cal or any other insurance, you can still obtain care at clinics such as
• If you met certain income requirements, you can access “Family Pact.” These services
are available to both men and woman who live in California. Call 1.800.942.1054 for a
location near you.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO PREGNANCY AND PARENTING SERVICES:
• You make the decision regarding your pregnancy and baby. Your foster parents, child
welfare worker nor the judge, can ask you to have the baby, have an abortion or give the
baby up for adoption.
• Keep your baby while in foster care. You will be able to raise the baby yourself.
• Access to services such as WIC, Black Infant Health Program, parenting classes, IPOP,
etc. Your child welfare worker should assist you in enrolling in these programs.
• If you decide to terminate your pregnancy, then Medi-Cal will pay for the procedure.
• If you are in foster care with your baby, your foster home or group home will receive an
additional $300 to pay for diapers, food, clothes, and other items your baby may need.
• The only way that your baby can be taken away is if your baby is in danger or you are
abusing or neglecting him/her. If this happens, you will have to go to court and prove
• Determine visitation with the baby’s other parent. If you are having difficulty deciding on
visitation, the courts can decide on visitation and custody issues.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEX EDUCATION, BIRTH CONTROL AND STD/HIV
• When you are in foster care, your parents, foster parents or child welfare worker will
usually know the results of the visit. If you DO NOT want them to know, you have a
right to keep some information private.
• If you are at least 12 years-old, you can visit the doctor by yourself, for the following:
o Sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s)
o Alcohol/Drug Treatment
o HIV testing
o Rape victims
• Regardless of the circumstances, you can go privately for the following:
o Birth control
• You can get these services for free if you sign up for Medi-Cal Minor Consent Insurance.
This is different from regular Medi-Cal. Regular Medi-Cal will pay for these services, but
if you use regular Medi-Cal there is no guarantee that it will be confidential (make sure
you tell your doctor that you want your information to remain confidential). You can sign
up for this at Alameda County’s welfare office.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CONFIDENTIALITY:
• Generally, your child welfare worker, CASA, judge and foster parents must keep your
information confidential. They can not talk to people about your personal business, nor
can they show them your records. They can only share records with people if it is
necessary. If the judge wants people who are not on your case to view your records, he
must hold a special hearing to obtain your feedback. Keep in mind that the final decision
is determined by the judge.
• If you feel that people are telling others confidential information about you, contact your
attorney or child welfare worker. You may also contact the State Ombudsperson’s Office
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO FOSTER CARE RECORDS:
• See and obtain a copy of your court report and your case plan. You do not need a court
order to see your files.
• When the judge is dismissing your case, they must make sure that you know how to
obtain your records.
• Keep your court report records private, unless the law says otherwise.
• Be told by your child welfare worker or probation officer and your attorney about any
changes in your case plan or placement.
• If you want to see your records, you should tell your attorney or child welfare worker. He
or she will ask the court for you. You can ask your attorney to show you the records that
they have on file for you. The attorney’s file actually belongs to you.
• If people other than your child welfare worker, attorney, judge, CASA, or others helping
on your case want to see your file, the judge must hold a hearing where you can tell him
or her how you feel about it. Ultimately, it is the decision of the judge if he or she allows
others to view your records.
• You can seal your juvenile dependency records when you get older. These files include
why you were removed from your parents, what happened to you and the actions of the
court over the years. Dependency records are automatically sealed five years after you
leave the system.
If you are in a situation involving the police, it is important for you to know your rights. This is
not a complete list, but will give you a good starting point. If you are arrested, make sure that
you are polite and courteous, have your parents or attorney present, write down everything that
happened, and seek medical attention if you are injured by the police and take photographs of the
It is important to remember not to do the following:
During an encounter with law enforcement, DO NOT:
• Do not get into an argument with the police.
• Do not resist arrest.
• Do not run away from the police officer.
• Do not place your hands where the police can’t see them.
• Do not sign anything unless your attorney is present and approves it.
• Do not give a false or incorrect name.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO:
• Remain Silent. If you did something illegal or wrong, or are not sure or if you didn’t do
anything illegal, then tell them you want to remain silent.
• Access to a lawyer. If they are asking you questions and you are not free to leave, politely
tell them you would like to speak with a lawyer.
• The right to say that you do not want the police officer to search you or your things. This
does not mean they will stop searching, but you can say politely that you do not give
them permission for the search.
• The right not to be searched without probable cause. This means they have to tell you
why they think you did something wrong.
Dependency to Delinquency
If you commit a crime, then a meeting must be held by the child welfare worker and the
probation department. They will discuss the incident and what is in your best interest and the
community’s. This meeting is known as a 241.1 meeting. The recommendation will be given to
the judge and he or she will decide whether to keep you as a dependent or change your status to a
juvenile dependent. The best way to avoid this is to STAY OUT OF TROUBLE.
Sealing Criminal Records
Sealing a California juvenile record means that those charges, arrests and probation status reports
contained in the record cannot be seen by anyone without the person’s permission. Once a record
is sealed, you can legally tell any future employer or school admissions officer, for example, that
you were never arrested.
A California juvenile court record may be sealed when you turn 18 or five years after your last
juvenile court case ended. You must ask the juvenile court to seal the records. If you were 14 or
older when you committed a felony, a serious misdemeanor or certain vehicle violations, the
juvenile court does not have to seal your records.
The following must be completed to seal your records:
• You must affirmatively petition the juvenile court to have them sealed.
• Contact the juvenile court in the County you were convicted, and ask them to send you a
copy of the form used in that County.
• Complete the form and file it with the juvenile court in the County in which you were
• Check to see if they have any special filing requirements such as additional photocopies
or the need to serve copies of the petition on any government agencies, and get the
correct information for filing by mail.
• Ask them if there is a fee for getting your records sealed.
Dismissal from Dependency
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO EMANCIPATE EARLY:
There are three ways to become emancipated:
o Get married. You must be at least 18 years-old and your parent(s) or guardian(s)
and the judge all consent to the marriage. Once you are married, you are
o Join the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines. You need to be accepted
to one of these military branches and your parent(s) or guardian(s) must agree.
Once you join, then you are emancipated.
o Ask the judge to allow you to emancipate early. You have to be at least 14 years
of age, prove that you are willing and able to live on your own and have a steady,
legal income that will allow you to live on your own. The judge decides if it is in
your best interests. If you meet at the requirements and the judge thinks it’s in
your best interests, then you can emancipate early.
o You can find more information about early emancipation at:
o It is important to note that if you emancipate early, you may not have automatic
Medi-Cal until age 21, you lose the rights to foster care payments or benefits, and
no one else is responsible for your actions.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ATTEND ALL OF YOUR COURT HEARINGS
• It is important to attend all your court hearings, but it is VERY important to attend your
dismissal hearing because you want to make sure you have all the necessary documents
and paperwork completed prior to your dismissal from dependency.
• Attend your 391 Hearing
o California enacted legislation requiring that a hearing be held BEFORE
dependency is dismissed by the court due to reaching age of majority.
o The purpose of the 391 hearings (so called after the section of the Welfare and
Institutions Code mandating them) is to ensure that a child is not released from
the system without a place to live, a source of income, medical insurance, a job or
a school program in place, and with copies of their birth certificate and other
o 391 hearings ensure that emancipating youth have a realistic plan in place to meet
the youth’s basic needs.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ENSURE EMANCIPATION ITEMS HAVE BEEN
COMPLETED PRIOR TO YOUR DISMISSAL FROM DEPENDENCY:
• At the last court hearing, the judge must make sure the following have been addressed:
Welfare and Institutions Code 391. At any hearing to terminate jurisdiction over a
dependent child who has reached the age of majority the county welfare department
shall do both of the following:
(a) Ensure that the child is present in court, unless the child does not wish to appear
in court, or document efforts by the county welfare department to locate the child when
the child is not available.
(b) Submit a report verifying that the following information, documents, and services
have been provided to the child:
(1) Written information concerning the child's dependency case, including his or her
family history and placement history, the whereabouts of any siblings under the
jurisdiction of the juvenile court, unless the court determines that sibling contact would
jeopardize the safety or welfare of the sibling, directions on how to access the
documents the child is entitled to inspect under Section 827, and the date on which the
jurisdiction of the juvenile court would be terminated.
(2) The following documents, where applicable: social security card, certified birth
certificate, health and education summary as described in subdivision (a) of Section
16010, identification card, as described in Section 13000 of the Vehicle Code, death
certificate of parent or parents, and proof of citizenship or residence.
(3) Assistance in completing an application for Medi-Cal or assistance in obtaining
other health insurance; referral to transitional housing, if available, or assistance in
securing other housing; and assistance in obtaining employment or other financial
(4) Assistance in applying for admission to college or to a vocational training
program or other educational institution and in obtaining financial aid, where
(5) Assistance in maintaining relationships with individuals who are important to a
child who has been in out-of-home placement in a group home for six months or longer
from the date the child entered foster care, based on the child's best interests.
(c) The court may continue jurisdiction if it finds that the county welfare department
has not met the requirements of subdivision
(b) and that termination of jurisdiction would be harmful to the best interests of the
child. If the court determines that continued jurisdiction is warranted pursuant to this
section, the continuation shall only be ordered for that period of time necessary for the
county welfare department to meet the requirements of subdivision
(b). This section shall not be construed to limit the discretion of the juvenile court to
continue jurisdiction for other reasons. The court may terminate jurisdiction if the
county welfare department has offered the required services, and the child either has
refused the services or, after reasonable efforts by the county welfare department,
cannot be located.
(d) The Judicial Council shall develop and implement standards, and develop and
adopt appropriate forms, necessary to implement this section.
• If you have not been provided with these services, information and papers, then you need
to communicate this to your attorney and the judge.
• If you do not have your required paperwork when leaving foster, you need to
communicate this to your attorney and the judge. Insist that you have them before the
judge dismisses your case.
Resource for Children’s Rights
“Every Child, Every Hearing: How to Ensure the Daily Well-Being of Children in Foster
Care by Enforcing Their Rights” is a booklet that offers a comprehensive set of questions that
will help professionals gather information for ensuring that every child’s rights are enforced at
every hearing. This booklet asks key questions (with accompanying citations) that must be asked
and followed up on for every child in foster care. For a copy of the guide, please contact:
Administrative Office of the Courts
Attn: Center for Families, Children and the Courts
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102-3688
Alameda County Ombudsperson: 510.268.2365
California State Ombudsperson: 1.877.846.1602
Community Care Licensing: 650.266.8800
Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission: 510.618.1950 or visit
http://www.casaofalamedacounty.org for a complaint form.
*NOTE: Foster children have a right to file a complaint immediately, but ideally we want to
teach them to attempt to resolve the issue before escalating their concerns.