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A Judge's Helping Hand

May 18, 1986

Superior Court Judge Norman A. Dowds has ordered the state of California to provide emergency services to homeless children living with their parents. He has accepted the argument of public interest lawyers that these children come under the protection of the already-established law covering the abused, the neglected and the endangered. Indeed they do.

There has been resistance from state officials, arguing that this will strain the already limited resources for caring for abused children and that a legislative remedy would be more appropriate. Those objections are good arguments for further action by the state government. But they do not challenge the correctness of the court action.

An estimated 9,000 children in Los Angeles County, and thousands more statewide, will benefit from this decision. Public agencies will now be required to provide for their care within their families. This will end the costly and damaging policy of the past in which benefits have been offered the children only if they were institutionalized or placed in foster homes away from their parents. Housing is available for entire families at costs considerably less than the daily fees for maintaining a child in a public detention facility.

Legislation is under consideration in Sacramento to provide additional emergency assistance to homeless children. That is appropriate. And the Legislature should not hesitate to provide adequate funds to assure protection under the Welfare and Institutions Code.

A coalition of public law agencies from different parts of the state joined in bringing this important class action suit. The case was argued by Robert Newman of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles. They have served well the cause of justice.

The absurdity of having excluding these children from the protection of the law was well articulated after the ruling by Melinda Bird, another Western Center attorney. "How can we draw a distinction?" she asked. "How can you say, 'This child is abused so it deserves care and this one doesn't because it's only sleeping in a car,'?" The court has replied. There can be no such distinction.

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