For Anyone Concerned About a Foster Child
Reporting and Information Sharing: Improving Outcomes
The best outcomes for foster children occur when everyone involved in the child’s care and supervision works together using all of the legal tools available to them.
Too often problems in a child’s case are not identified and communicated effectively to the dependency court or the responsible agencies. In addition to caregivers, the main parties involved in the dependency court process are the court, county child welfare agencies, foster family agencies, and attorneys.
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided a resource webpage on filing complaints about county welfare services agencies that can be found here. We have compiled additional information and suggestions on how to bring your concerns to the attention of the appropriate child welfare authorities. If you have specific questions regarding a juvenile dependency case, please contact Advokids.
The Dependency Court
The role of the dependency court is critical for oversight of a foster child’s case. The county child welfare agencies are accountable to the dependency courts as they propose initial case dispositions and review hearing case dispositions. Foster Family Agencies are also accountable to the dependency court.
California state law and Federal law allow and encourage caregivers to have dependency court access and dependency court reporting power. In California, we have an additional reporting opportunity which allows “any interested person” to request a change of court order under very specific circumstances.
If you are a Caregiver: Communicating with the court requires special court forms and protocol. If you are a caregiver and wish to report to the court at the time of a review hearing, you will need to file a JV-290 Caregiver Information form. For more information, please see our Caregiver Information page.
If you are not a party or a Caregiver: if you are not a party to the juvenile dependency case and not a caregiver of the dependent child you have concerns about, you will need to file a JV-180 Request to Change Court Order form to communicate with the court. For more information on how to utilize this form, please see our Request to Change a Court Order page.
Reporting A Concern About a Foster Child or Youth in Your Care
If you have serious concerns about a foster child or youth that is placed in your care, it is important to keep all communication about your concerns in writing so that you can document who you have voiced the concerns to. County child welfare agencies are responsible for the day-to-day casework for foster children in California. County agencies must file reports and recommendations to the dependency court at the time of disposition, review hearings, and permanency planning hearings. Advokids encourages all foster child advocates to always report their serious concerns about a child in foster care to the county child welfare agency. It is important to inform all professionals up the chain of command of your concerns. This allows the administrators and directors of the agency to be aware of your concerns and will encourage them to scrutinize the activities and decisions within their department.
You can find an example of a Letter of Concern here.
All corresponding reporting your concerns should be sent to the following people at the county child welfare agency:
- The assigned county social worker,
- The county social worker's supervisor, and
- All agency employees responsible for the child/youth, including the program manager and director.
Copies of all letters of concern written to the agency should also be sent to the following individuals:
- The child/youth's appointed attorney,
- County counsel assigned to the case,
- The Court Appointed Special Advocate ("CASA") if there is one,
- The Foster Family Agency ("FFA") social worker, supervisor, and director (if there is an FFA involved), and
- The California State Ombudsperson for Foster Care
- CDSS Caregiver Policy and Spport Team at this email: [email protected]
Resource Families working with a Foster Family Agency
Foster family agencies are also responsible for the day-to-day casework with foster children in California. They have a duty to file periodic reports with the Juvenile Court. Welfare and Institutions Code § 366.21 (d) requires that:
Prior to any hearing involving a child in the physical custody of a community care facility or a foster family agency that may result in the return of the child to the physical custody of his or her parent or legal guardian, or in adoption or the creation of a legal guardianship, the facility or agency shall file with the court a report, or a Judicial Council Caregiver Information Form (JV-290), containing its recommendation for disposition. Welfare and Institutions Code § 366.21(d)
If you are an advocate with a concern about a foster child placed through a Foster Family Agency, be sure to send a letter of concern to the Foster Family Agency social worker, his/her supervisor and the director of the Foster Family Agency. Copies of all letters of concern written to the FFA should also be sent to all county social workers involved in the child’s case, the director of the county agency, the child’s attorney, county counsel, and the CASA, if one has been appointed.
Reporting Foster Youth Rights Violations to the Ombudsperson
If your complaint is related to the care, placement, services, or rights of a foster child or youth, you can contact the California State Ombudsperson for Foster Care.
The California Ombudsperson for Foster Care is the state agency mandated to investigate and attempt to resolve complaints, on behalf of foster children, related to their care, placement or services. The office is empowered to investigate complaints about state and local agencies regarding foster care. The office listens to your concerns, documents your complaints, gathers all relevant information, remains neutral and impartial, and formulates a process for possible resolution. Please contact the Ombudsperson by calling or filing an online complaint:
Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson
744 P Street, M.S. 8-13-25
Sacramento, CA 95814
For more information on how the Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson can assist you, please visit our website at https://fosteryouthhelp.ca.gov
Complaints Regarding County Social Worker Conduct
Concerns about possible inappropriate actions of county employees and requests to change assigned social workers should be addressed to the Director of the specific county's child welfare services agency for resolution.
If you are making a complaint against a specific county social worker, we suggest that you provide as much detailed information as possible - listing the date, time, location, who was present and any witnesses to the events about which you are complaining. Please be aware that this is a very serious step to take. If no action is taken in response to your complaint, you will have to continue to work with the social worker about whom you complained.
The names of county directors, addresses, and telephone numbers are listed in the County Government section of the local telephone directory or you may also find this information by visiting the County Welfare Directors Association website at www.cwda.org/membership.
Complaints About California Judges for Misconduct or Wrongdoing
Complaints about California judges should be made in writing to the Commission on Judicial Performance. You may use the Commission's complaint form or write a letter describing the judge's conduct. (A complaint form can be obtained by calling the phone number for the Commission shown below). Written complaints should include the name of the judge, relevant dates, names of witnesses, and sources of information. Copies (do not send originals) of court documents may be attached to your letter to support the allegations against the judge. Written complaints should be sent to:
State Commission on Judicial Performance
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14400
San Francisco, CA 94102
Website address: www.courts.ca.gov
Please note that the Commission does not have authority to direct a judge to take legal action, or to review a case for judicial error, mistake or other legal grounds. These functions are for the State's appellate courts.
For more information, please visit the California Department of Social Services webpage on Complaints About County Child Welfare Services Agencies.
Complaints About Court Appointed Attorneys
Attorneys charged with the duty of representing foster children in the dependency legal system have a tremendous responsibility. It is important for all child advocates to be familiar with Welfare and Institutions Code Section 317(e), and the state and county rules of court which set out the specific duties and obligations of minor’s counsel. Attorneys representing children in dependency court are also held to “minimum standards of representation” under California Rule of Court § 5.660. Some counties also have “local rules of court” requiring more specified duties of minor’s counsel beyond the requirements or standards of representation required by Welfare and Institutions Code § 317(e) and California Rule of Court § 5.660. Please check our Local Rules by County webpage to identify any rules applicable in your county.
- "Attorneys or their agents are expected to meet regularly with clients, including clients who are children, regardless of the age of the child or the child's ability to communicate verbally, to contact social workers and other professionals associated with the client's case, to work with other counsel and the court to resolve disputed aspects of a case without contested hearing, and to adhere to the mandated timelines. The attorney for the child must have sufficient contact with the child to establish and maintain an adequate and professional attorney-client relationship. The attorney for the child is not required to assume the responsibilities of a social worker and is not expected to perform services for the child that are unrelated to the child's legal representation." California Rules of Court, Rule 5.660(d)(4)
Rule 5.660(e) further mandates a complaint procedure for appointed attorneys in which the court must take action. If you believe that your court-appointed attorney is not representing your interests, you can report problems or lodge complaints to the presiding judge of the juvenile court by using the “Request for Assistance with Court Appointed Attorney” form. You may find instructions for completing the form here. If you know your judge's name or department, you can address the letter to that judge and send your letter there. If you do not know who your judge is, try searching online for the supervising or presiding judge of the juvenile dependency court in the county your case is in. If you can't find out who that is, address your letter to "Supervising Juvenile Dependency Judge" and send it to the juvenile dependency court in the county that has jurisdiction over the case.
For Individuals who are not Parties to the Juvenile Dependency Case
If you are not a party complaining about your court appointed attorney, only certain counties have adopted Local Rules of Court which allow adults who have a relationship with a child in foster care to lodge a complaint on behalf of the child, i.e. the caregiver, social worker, CASA, or relative. See your county Local Rules, under “Representation of Parties: Complaints.”
You can find the contact information for the presiding judge of the juvenile dependency case in this directory of mailing addresses for all juvenile court presiding judges in the State of California.
Complaint of Attorney Misconduct with the State Bar of California
Another recourse if you encounter problems with a court appointed attorney is to contact the State Bar of California and file a complaint for any unethical professional conduct. If you are filing a complaint about a court appointed minor’s attorney, a complaint may be made on behalf of a minor. For more information, please click here.
Legal Disclaimer: Advokids provides educational information and resources to those who use our website, call our hotline, or submit requests for information via the website. Any information provided may not be construed as the giving of legal advice to any person about a particular legal matter and should not be relied upon as the basis for taking a particular action or refraining from taking a particular action in any legal matter. If you want or need legal advice about a particular legal matter, you should consult a lawyer.
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