440 U.S. 125 (1979), 77-742, Miller v. Youakim

Docket Nº:No. 77-742
Citation:440 U.S. 125, 99 S.Ct. 957, 59 L.Ed.2d 194
Party Name:Miller v. Youakim
Case Date:February 22, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 125

440 U.S. 125 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 957, 59 L.Ed.2d 194

Miller

v.

Youakim

No. 77-742

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 22, 1979

Argued October 30, 1978

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In administering its Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care program (AFDC-FC), Illinois distinguishes between children who reside with relatives and those who do not. Children placed in unrelated foster homes qualify for the AFDC-FC program, which provides greater monthly payments than the basic AFDC program. But children who are placed in relatives' homes may participate only in the basic AFDC program, because the State defines the term "foster family home" as a facility for children unrelated to the operator. Section 408(a) of the Social Security Act establishes certain conditions of AFDC-FC eligibility, among which is the requirement that the child be placed in "a foster family home." This term is defined in § 408 as "a foster family home for children which is licensed by the State in which it is situated or has been approved . . . as meeting the standards established for such licensing." The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) has interpreted the federal statute to require that States provide AFDC-FC benefits "regardless of whether the . . . foster family home in which a child is placed is operated by a relative." Appellees are four foster children who were removed from their mother's home following a judicial determination of neglect, and their older sister and her husband. Two of these children were placed by the State in the home of their sister and her husband, which was approved as meeting the licensing standards for unrelated foster family homes. Illinois nevertheless refused to make AFDC-FC payments on behalf of the children because they were related to their foster parents. Appellees then brought this action challenging the validity of Illinois' distinction between related and unrelated foster parents. The Court of Appeals, affirming the District Court's judgment for appellees, struck down the Illinois statute.

Held: The AFDC-FC program encompasses foster children who, pursuant to a judicial determination of neglect, have been placed in related homes that meet a State's licensing requirements for

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unrelated foster homes. Accordingly, Illinois may not exclude from its AFDC-FC program children who reside with relatives. Pp. 133-146.

(a) Both the language and Legislative history of § 408 show that the AFDC-FC program was designed to meet the particular needs of all eligible neglected children, whether they are placed with related or unrelated foster parents. Distinguishing among equally neglected children based on their relationship to their foster parents would conflict with Congress' overriding goal of providing the best available care for all dependent children removed from their homes pursuant to a judicial determination of neglect. Pp. 134-143.

(b) Interpretations by HEW, the agency charged with administering the AFDC-FC program, are entitled to considerable deference. Pp. 143-144.

562 F.2d 483, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except STEVENS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

[99 S.Ct. 960] MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this appeal is whether Illinois may exclude from its Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care program children who reside with relatives.

The Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care program (AFDC-FC) authorizes federal financial subsidies

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for the care and support of children removed from their homes and made wards of the State pursuant to a judicial determination that the children's homes were not conducive to their welfare. §§ 408(a)(1), (2) of the Social Security Act of 135 (Act), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 608(a)(1), (2).1 To

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qualify for Foster Care assistance, these children must be placed in a "foster family home or child care institution." § 408(a)(3), 42 U.S.C. § 608(a)(3).2 The basic AFDC program, already in existence when the Foster Care program was enacted in 1961, provides aid to eligible children who live with a parent or with a relative specified in § 406(a) of the Act.3 In administering these programs, [99 S.Ct. 961] Illinois distinguishes

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between related and unrelated foster parents. Children placed in unrelated foster homes may participate in the AFDC-FC program. But those who are placed in the homes of relatives listed in § 406(a), and who are entitled to basic AFDC benefits, cannot receive AFDC-FC assistance because the State defines the term "foster family home" as a facility for children unrelated to the operator.4 Foster children living with relatives may participate only in Illinois' basic AFDC program, which provides lower monthly payments than the Foster Care program.5 The specific question presented here is whether Illinois has correctly interpreted the federal standards for AFDC-FC eligibility set forth in § 408(a) of the Act to exclude children who, because of placement with related, rather than unrelated, foster parents qualify for assistance under the basic AFDC program.

I

Appellees are four foster children, their older sister (Linda Youakim), and her husband (Marcel Youakim). In 1969, Illinois removed the children from their mother's home and made them wards of the State following a judicial determination

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of neglect. The Department of Children and Family Services (Department), which became responsible for the children,6 placed them in unrelated foster care facilities until 1972. During this period, they each received full AFDC-FC benefits of $105 a month. In 1972, the Department decided to place two of the children with the Youakims, who were under no legal obligation to accept or support them.7 The Department investigated the Youakim home and approved it as meeting the licensing standards established for unrelated foster family homes, as required by state law.8 Despite this approval, the State refused to make Foster Care payments on behalf of the children because they were related to Linda Youakim.

The exclusion of foster children living with related caretakers from Illinois' AFDC-FC program reflects the State's view that the home of a relative covered under basic AFDC is not a "foster family home" within the meaning of § 408(a)(3), the federal AFDC-FC eligibility provision at issue here. Interpreting that provision, Illinois defines a "foster family home" as

a [99 S.Ct. 962] facility for child care in residences of families who receive no more than 8 children unrelated to them . . . for the purpose of providing family care and training for

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the children on a full-time basis. . . .

Ill.Ann.Stat., ch. 23, § 2212.17 (Supp. 1978) (emphasis added).9 Homes that do not meet the definition may not be licensed,10 and, under state law, only licensed facilities are entitled to Foster Care payments.11

Although Illinois refused to make Foster Care payments, it did provide each child basic AFDC benefits of approximately $63 a month, substantially less than the applicable $105 AFDC-FC rate.12 The Youakims, however, believed that these payments were insufficient to provide proper support, and declined to accept the other two children. These children remain in unrelated foster care facilities and continue to receive AFDC-FC benefits.

In 1973, the Youakims and the four foster children brought a class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for themselves and persons similarly situated, challenging Illinois' distinction between related and unrelated foster parents as violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge District Court certified the class, but granted

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summary judgment for the state officials on the constitutional claim. 374 F.Supp. 1204 (ND Ill.1974).

While the direct appeal from the summary judgment was pending in this Court, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) issued a formal interpretation of the scope of the federal AFDC-FC program, providing in pertinent part:

When a child has been removed from his home by judicial determination and is placed in foster care under the various conditions specified in Section 408 of the Social Security Act and 45 CFR 233.110, the foster care rate of payment prevails regardless of whether or not the foster home is operated by a relative.

HEW Program Instruction APA-PI-75-9 (Oct. 25, 1974). In light of this administrative interpretation, we vacated the judgment and directed the District Court to consider whether the Illinois foster care scheme is inconsistent with the Social Security Act, and therefore invalid under the Supremacy Clause, U.S.Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Youakim v. Miller, 425 U.S. 231 (1976) (per curiam).

On remand, the District Court granted summary judgment for appellees, holding that the State's denial of AFDC-FC benefits and services to otherwise eligible foster children who live with relatives conflicts with §§ 401 and 408 of the Social Security Act. 431 F.Supp. 40, 45 (ND Ill.1976).13 It found that, under the "plain words" of § 408, dependent children adjudged to be wards of the State, removed from their homes, and placed in approved foster homes are entitled to AFDC-FC benefits, [99 S.Ct. 963] regardless of whether their foster parent is a relative. 431 F.Supp. at 44-45. In so ruling, the court relied on HEW's interpretive ruling and on the national policy embodied

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in § 401 of the Act to "encourag[e] the care of dependent children in their own homes or in the homes of relatives." 431 F.Supp. at 44. Since...

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