California’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that juveniles can be removed from parental custody even if there is no failure to supervise the child or no finding of neglect. A California law enables the state to take children into custody if they are at risk for serious harm as a result of their parents’ failure to supervise and protect them. The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that it is immaterial whether the parents neglected their children, or are to blame for not protecting them.
The case involved an appeal over a teenage girl who repeatedly ran away from her parents and gave birth to two children. According to the opinion of the court, the girl identified as R.T. was born in 1996. She began running away from home at the age of 14 and also skipped school. R.T. also falsely accused her mother, identified as Lisa E. abused her. In addition, R.T. gave birth to a child when she was 15 and subsequently had another.
When Lisa E. sought help from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and law enforcement, she arranged for R.T. to live with her maternal grandparents. The grandfather had experienced working with troubled youth, the opinion said. R.T., who who struggled with anger management issues, at one point threw a chair at her grandfather.
In 2014, the state petitioned to take custody of R.T., who was then aged 17 years. R.T. was initially placed elsewhere, in a lower court decision, before being returned to her grandparents’ custody.
Lisa E., R.T.’s mother appealed, and an appellate court ruling upheld the lower court order. The mother argued that the court should have deemed her daughter at fault under delinquency laws that also give the state authority to take custody of children. The delinquency system covers crimes, but also less serious behavior such as refusing to obey parents' orders or skipping school.
“In arguing that dependency jurisdiction over R.T. was not warranted, mother insists she was not at fault or blameworthy because she did everything possible to control R.T.‘s incorrigible behavior. We do not disagree — the record reveals her concerted (and at times desperate) efforts to protect and discipline R.T.,” the supreme court opinion read.“The record supports that R.T. faced an ongoing risk of harm based on her increasingly self-destructive behavior, behavior that mother simply could not control.”
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ming Chin said in the ruling that the girl was incorrigible, and the court did not disagree that her mother tried everything possible to control and protect the girl. The mother, the court declared, was not to blame for her daughter’s behavior. However, Chin said that California law does not require a finding of fault on the mother's part but just a determination that she was unable to keep the girl from harm.