SAN FRANCISCO — A California appeals court has butted heads with another state appellate court over whether the state can remove out-of-control children from the custody of a parent even if the mother or father has not neglected the child or is otherwise not at fault for their behavior.
If children face substantial risk of harming themselves, it doesn’t matter whether the parent did anything intentional to put them in that position, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday. Another state appellate court ruled in 2010 that a parent had to be shown to be culpable for a failure or inability to supervise or protect a child. Such conflicts between appeals courts are often resolved by the state Supreme Court.
Thursday’s ruling goes against the commonly accepted understanding that a court has to find the parents did something wrong to remove the child, said Dan Mayfield, a San Jose attorney who specializes in juvenile law. “It broadens the government’s power,” he said.
The ruling came in the case of a Los Angeles County mother whose teen daughter repeatedly ran away from home and had a child at the age of 15. The appellate court said the girl remained incorrigible despite her mother’s best efforts, which included looking for her each time she left home, sending her to live with her grandparents and calling the police and Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services for help. The mother was identified in court documents only as “Lisa E.” and her daughter as “R.T.”
“(The) mother in this case was neither neglectful nor blameworthy in being unable to supervise or protect her daughter,” the court said.
But state law is clear that children can still be taken if they have suffered or are at substantial risk of suffering serious harm that a parent is unable to stop, Associate Justice Brian Hoffstadt wrote.
“We do appreciate the clarification the court made that the welfare of the child is what’s paramount here,” said Armand Montiel, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. “Our work is based on the fact that the child’s safety is job one.”
The court’s ruling upheld a juvenile court’s decision to assert control over R.T. and allow the county to place her elsewhere. The county placed her back with her grandparents.
The mother appealed the decision. The girl turned 18 while the appeal was pending.
A call to the mother’s attorney was not immediately returned.