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Appeals Court Allows LFC to Proceed in Shadow Foster Care Lawsuit

A New York State appeals court ruled that Lawyers For Children and its co-plaintiffs, the Legal Aid Society and the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo have the right to challenge the State’s dangerous shadow foster care program, “Host Homes,” which would allow for the removal of children from their families without the safeguards provided under existing law regulating the placement of children in foster care.

In rejecting the State’s argument that Lawyers For Children had not demonstrated an injury that would confer standing to challenge implementation of the program, the Court recognized that children who were subject to the program would be deprived of important statutory rights and protections. the Court held, “implementation of the program would in essence, place children outside their home without the right to legal representation.”

In oral arguments, a panel of five judges questioned the State’s contention that youth who wished to challenge the Host Homes program could engage counsel on their own. When asked how a 14-year-old wishing to bring a case could do so, the State’s attorney responded, “I think 14-year-olds are savvier, and could also look for Legal Aid and counsel (on their phone).”

The judge pushed back by saying, “The people that usually find themselves in these predicaments - that their children have to go to a host family - usually are people that come from a certain socioeconomic class that cannot afford or have the wherewithal to obtain counsel.”

In a similar exchange, another judge commented, “that 14-year-old would otherwise be entitled to an attorney for the child appointed by the state in a family court proceeding when there's a proceeding brought or there's placement. And if we're circumventing that, I don't see how that 14 year old gets counsel…let's be realistic.”

The case has been returned to the trial court, to determine whether the “Host Homes” shadow foster care program is permissible under state Law.

Watch exchange between attorney for New York State and judges