Mother and Father lived together and had a child together. Mother was severely
disabled after an automobile accident. Although she could understand,
she could not speak and had no control over her limbs. She was confined
to a wheelchair. Father was physically fine, but had severe anger management
problems. He also had arrests for assaults with deadly weapons and burglary.
He was currently on parole. Further, according to Mother’s family
members (and Mother herself), two or three times a week, Father would
pick Mother up from her wheelchair, shake her and slap her face multiple times.
Neighbors of Mother and Father contacted the Los Angeles County Department
of Children and Family Services (Department) with concerns for the welfare
of their child, Baby T. Department social workers began an investigation,
and after numerous contacts with Mother, Father Baby T’s doctor,
and Mother’s family members, Department filed a petition with the
juvenile court to have Baby T removed from Mother’s care.
Mother and Baby T moved in with Mother’s family members and a restraining
order was placed against Father. He was also returned to jail for parole
violations (i.e., his violence against Mother). Department also told Mother
to have no further contact with Father, or she could lose custody of her
child. Mother, however, wanted to maintain her relationship with Father
and continued to text him constantly.
Department believed Mother did not bond with Baby T. She rarely held him,
and did not financially provide for him, even though she received over
$900 in SSI per month. Mother’s sister K, who also lived in the
home, provided for Baby T’s financial needs and his care giving.
Ultimately, the Department recommended that Mother was unable to meet Baby
T’s basic needs; that he should be made a dependent of the juvenile
court and placed with K to ensure his safety and well-being.
The juvenile court decided to leave Baby T in Mother’s care, but
was very concerned about doing so. In addressing Mother the court said:
“…[you have] some very, very serious thought [regarding]
what you are going to do in the future because this is a very violent
man that you are dealing with. And you being in the physical condition
that you are in, you are very, very vulnerable to being seriously hurt
if not killed. And it is my responsibility to ensure the well-being and
safety of your child. If I get information that you are exposing this
child to violence, either to yourself or to the child, that you are allowing
the child to have contact with [Father] without an appropriate monitor,
then you are going to have to make a choice between [him] and your child....
I cannot make it more clear to you than that. I am very sympathetic to
you. Okay? I would like to keep this child with you, and I will do so
if you conduct yourself in a way where you obey the court’s orders
and you do not expose this child to an unsafe dangerous situation.”
In a later hearing, Department noted that Baby T was doing well. However,
Mother was getting worse. Her legs no longer bent at the knees, but stuck
out straight. The only movement she made was with her left hand to text
people. She provided no financial support for Baby T, no bonding with
Baby T and she still wanted a relationship with Father. K took care of
Baby T and provided for him financially. K wanted to move out and continue
to care for Baby T. The juvenile court granted Department’s request
and removed custody from Mother to K. It did so, not because of Mother’s
disability, but because of a “…substantial risk of harm to
a child as a result of the inability of a parent to adequately supervise
or protect that child...”
The court noted that Mother had very little control over her limbs, could
not speak, used a wheelchair and relied on others to meet all of her own
activities of daily living. She did have some movement and control in
her left hand and was able to communicate by way of text, but her unwillingness
to parent Baby T, her lack of interest in him, and her and failure to
financially provide for him put Baby T at a substantial risk of harm.
Further, her continued attempts to have a relationship with Father could
also put Baby T at a substantial risk of harm.
Mother appealed arguing that her disability should not prevent her from
parenting her child.
The Appellate Court agreed with the Juvenile Court. Baby T was not removed
from Mother’s care solely for his disability, but her inability
to try to parent him. She did not involve herself in his day-to-day life,
nor provide for any of his needs. She did not bond with him and she did
not spend money on necessaries, such as diapers and formula. Further,
her refusal to separate herself from Father, a violent person, could place
Baby T’s life in harm.