Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Case Law Development: Washington Court Rules that Effort to Deal with Child Needing Psychiatric Treatment Improper – Places Judges in Quandary

A ruling by the Washington Court of Appeals on Monday has placed juvenile judges in that state in a quandary in cases of seriously mentally ill children whose parents seek help from the state. The case involved a family that feared for their safety from a 13-year old child with a history of serious mental illness who had assaulted his mother. A juvenile-court judge had responded to their request for psychiatric help for the child by ordering the Department of Social and Health Services to take custody of the child.  However, the Court of Appeals ruled that the handling of the case was improper because the normal steps that are followed to place a child in foster care had not been followed. 

The court said that despite the plea from the family “none of the requirements or safeguards applicable to the establishment of dependency or the placement of children in foster care were fulfilled.  The father was not given any notice of the proceeding or an opportunity to be heard.  Neither parent was either represented by counsel or provided a meaningful hearing before an unbiased fact finder where competent evidence could be presented to establish parental unfitness.  Yet these protections are required for a proper finding of dependency.  The court's order removing G.A.H. from his home and placing him in foster care was made in the absence of the fundamental protections afforded families and children.”  It concluced that the juvenile court had exceeded its authority and circumvented the proper role of the Department of Children and Family Services.  DCFS had earlier determined that that out-of-home placement through the foster care system was neither appropriate nor necessary for the child. News source.  Maureen O'Hagan, Seattle Times, seattletimes.nwsource.com. For the news story, please click here (last visited June 21, 2006, reo). The slip opinion in State of Washington v. G.A.H., filed June 19, can be found by clicking here (last visited June 21, 2006, reo).

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