When a Therapist Denies a Mother Visitation with Her Son

On February 17, 2020, the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS] received a referral from the Alhambra, California Police Department alleging caretaker incapacity and physical abuse of a minor.  Mother [M] had telephoned the police department to report that her adult son [A] had kidnapped her minor son [S] (born in 2005).

When police arrived, they found S with A at A’s home.  A told the officers that M had arrived from Utah with S and showed up at his home at 3 or 4 am.  A had not seen M in ten years, and was unaware that she was coming to visit.  M and A got into an argument an M left.  S stayed with A, and A noticed that S appeared afraid of M.  S told A that M abused him physically and mentally.

The officers then spoke to M who appeared to be paranoid stating that people were following her and she saw UFOs.  Concerning for S’s safety, they filed a report with DCFS.  DCFS placed S in protective custody.  S could not remain in A’s custody because A had a criminal record, so S was later placed in foster care with monitored visitations with M.

At an August 2020 disposition report/hearing, DCFS discovered and advised the court that M had numerous welfare referrals in both Utah and California for S, but also for A when he was a minor, and for M’s daughter [D] when she was a child.  DCFS further advised the court that M had abandoned D by leaving her with D’s paternal grandparents in Mexico.  DCFS had located D (who is now an adult) in Mexico and confirmed the reports.

DCFS also reported to the court that S had been hospitalized for self-harming.  His social worker had gone to the hospital and found S depressed and scared that he would be reunited with M.  S said he would rather remain in foster care than ever be near M again.  S was provided with mental health therapy.  DCFS further reported that his therapist recommended that there be no further contact between S and M. 

The juvenile court “…ordered reunification services for mother, including a parenting program, individual counseling to address case issues, and if recommended by [S]’s therapist, conjoint counseling. The court ordered mother to participate in either a psychiatric evaluation or an Evidence Code section 730 evaluation and to take all prescribed psychotropic medications.”

M appealed arguing that a court should not delegate its duty to a therapist to determine joint counseling and visitation.

The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court stating: “The juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by ordering conjoint counseling with mother and [S] when deemed appropriate by [S]’s therapist. The record shows that [S] became stressed and anxious when mother made harassing phone calls to his caregiver and insisted on speaking with [S]. He engaged in self-harming behaviors and was twice hospitalized for suicidal ideation. [S] repeatedly stated he was afraid of mother and said he wanted no contact with her. Given these circumstances, the juvenile court’s decision to commence conjoint counseling once [S]’s therapist believed the child was ready to resume contact with mother was not an abuse of discretion. Having [S]’s therapist decide when conjoint counseling would be appropriate was not, as mother contends, an unlawful delegation of judicial power.”