Sometimes It's Not the Parent's Fault

In 1996, Lisa E. gave birth to her daughter R.T. As a single mother, Lisa tried to raise her child to be a good person. However, by the time R.T. was 14 years old, she was considered “out of control”, “incorrigible”, and “rebellious.” She was running away from home, not attending school, and falsely accusing Lisa of abusing her. R.T. had her first child by the age of 15, and another child a few years later.

Lisa tried to control R.T.’s behavior by placing her with Lisa’s parents, specifically because R.T.’s grandfather worked with troubled and at-risk youth, but that didn’t work. She asked the police department for help and even contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (CFS) for help, even though she would not voluntarily give up custody of R.T. Ultimately, however, Lisa was unable to supervise and protect R.T. (and now R.T.’s infant daughter) from danger, so the CFS obtained custody by declaring R.T. a dependent of the juvenile court.

Lisa appealed. She believed the CFS had no right to remove R.T. from her custody, because she (Lisa) had done everything she could to provide for R.T.’s welfare and was not to blame for R.T’s behavior. Further, by being blamed for R.T.’s behavior, Lisa could lose custody of R.T’s two children.

Under California’s Welfare and Institutions Code, if a child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness, as a result of the failure or inability of her parent to adequately supervise or protect her, the CFS can remove the child from the parent’s custody.

The appellate court upheld the finding of the juvenile court noting that dependency jurisdiction is appropriate when the parent cannot provide adequate care for the child even if the parent is not to blame.

The appellate court also noted the legislature’s intent upon enacting the law was “… to provide maximum safety and protection for children who are currently being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, being neglected, or being exploited, and to ensure the safety, protection, and physical and emotional well-being of children who are at risk of that harm…” Nowhere does the code section include whether the custodial parent (or guardian) caused the harm to the child.

The issue is whether a parent is able to protect the welfare of her child, and in this situation, Lisa was clearly incapable of supervising and protecting R.T., even though Lisa was not to blame for R.T.’s behavior.

Although often the fault of the custodial parent or guardian is the reason for removal of a child from the home, it is not the only reason. The first issue the court always looks at is what is in the best interests of the child.

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