Our Stories

How a Remarkable Adoption Led to Statewide Change for Children

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed SB 368, a little-noticed law that will make a huge difference for children with serious emotional, medical and self-care needs in the foster-care system. The law, authored by California Sen. Carol Liu, was the result of a remarkable family adoption by Public Counsel and the law firm of Reed Smith LLP.

At just three months of age, Alice’s biological father shook her with so much force that he fractured her skull and ribs. Alice now has profound mental retardation, daily seizures and is legally blind. She cannot walk, talk, crawl or sit-up.

Unfortunately, Alice was in legal limbo. She had no parent to care for her and her grandparents had not adopted her.  There was no one who was legally able to help her obtain the services she is entitled to from a regional center, the nonprofit groups that coordinate services for children and adults. For nearly a year and a half, Alice could not access the critical services that she needed to progress.

Attorneys from Reed Smith took on Alice’s case pro bono.

"When I began working with the family to secure critical services for the children, we experienced push back because the adoptive parents didn’t have the necessary legal rights to request help," said Veronica Kuiumdijian. "If adoptive parents aren’t allowed to seek services on behalf of children, who will?"

Alice is one of an estimated 1,000 foster children in California with severe developmental disabilities. In an effort to make sure other families don't fall through the cracks, Public Counsel sponsored SB 368, a bill that Public Counsel's senior staff attorney Brian Capra calls "comprehensive empowerment for caregivers."

"This bill is about protecting some of the most vulnerable young people in our state," said Sen. Liu, Chair of the Senate Human Services Committee. "I am glad that the Governor understood how we can help these youth, protect their rights, and give them an opportunity to improve their lives."

"Adoptive parents and long-term foster families are already responsible for a child’s educational future, and now they can help meet children’s developmental needs as well," said Capra of Public Counsel. “We thank Sen. Liu for her tenacious work for children and for proving that even in a budget crisis, Californians can come together to make positive changes for children.”

How does SB 368 make a difference for children? Because of the passage of SB 368, long-term care-givers can step in as responsible decisionmakers and make certain that children like Alice get what they need. Under the law, children's courts can step in and appoint a responsible adult to be a "developmental services decisionmaker" under the Lanterman Act to ensure children like Alice and their caregivers get the help and services they need without delay. 

SB 368 also empowers caregivers to be more responsible for the developmentally disabled child’s well-being. Before, judges in dependency and delinquency cases routinely made prospective adoptive parents and foster families responsible for a child’s education.

By making caregivers responsible for both the educational and developmental needs of the child, many children and their families should now be able to receive regional center services more quickly. The law will also help to streamline the process for regional centers to serve these children, which, in turn, should help save valuable time and resources for not only the regional centers themselves, but for court personnel too.