In re M.A.
Juvenile Law Center, as amicus, filed a brief on behalf of M.A., a 19-year-old youth who asked the juvenile court to resume jurisdiction of her dependency case pursuant to Act 91. In order to be eligible for this foster care extension, M.A.’s initial dependency jurisdiction must have been terminated within 90 days before, or any time after her 18th birthday, and had to participate in any of the following five qualifying activities:
- completing secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential;
- enrolled in an institution which provides post-secondary or vocational education;
- participating in a program or activity designed to promote, or remove barriers to, employment;
- employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
- incapable of doing any of the activities described in (i)-(iv) due to a medical or behavioral health condition, which is supported by regularly updated information in the permanency plan of the child. medical condition, which incapability is supported by regularly updated information in the case plan of the child
M.A.’s initial dependency jurisdiction was terminated after her 18th birthday and she worked 40-hours a week at a full-time job, meeting all of Act 91’s eligibility criteria for resumption of dependency jurisdiction and continued court jurisdiction. The court resumed jurisdiction of M.A.’s case and ordered that the child welfare agency provide financial support until M.A. turned 21 in the form of a daily stipend. M.A. resided in a home in which her mother also lived, and was responsible for paying for the majority of her room and board, and incidentals.
Approximately three months after the court resumed jurisdiction, the child welfare agency filed a motion to terminate M.A.’s stipend, alleging that M.A. was not currently enrolled in a course of instruction or incurring expenses associated with a course of instruction.
Juvenile Law Center argued that M.A.’s full-time job unequivocally made her eligible for extended dependency jurisdiction under Act 91, regardless of whether she was also enrolled in a course of instruction, as each of Act 91’s eligibility criteria is independent and given equal weight under the Juvenile Act. The juvenile court is tasked with ordering a disposition for each dependent child that is in the child’s best interest and ensures that the child’s needs are met. Such a disposition must be discretionary, independent of other concerns, and not bound by funding limitations. If the juvenile court deemed the daily stipend necessary to support M.A.’s needs and best interest, nothing limits the juvenile court from ordering the stipend and requiring the child welfare agency to provide it.
Juvenile Law Center also explained the various federal and state laws that provide several means to fund a dependent youth’s disposition, which include direct payments to youth to defray the cost of their care. Juvenile Law Center urged the court to deny the child welfare agency’s motion to terminate M.A.’s stipend.
The matter is currently pending before the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County.