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In Re K.C. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court v. J.P

December 20, 2012


Trial Court: Santa Cruz County Superior Court Nos.: DP002363 & DP002364 Trial Judge: The Honorable Denine J. Guy

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rushing, P.J.


(Santa Cruz County Super. Ct. No. DP002363 & DP002364)

This is a companion appeal to In re K.C. (Dec. , 2012, H037926) [nonpub. opn.] (K.C. 2), decided today. In that case we affirm orders of the juvenile court sustaining a supplemental petition and removing dependent child K.C. from the care of her father, appellant J.P. (Father). The question before us here is whether the court erred in a subsequent order terminating reunification services to Father in connection with both K.C. and her brother, Z.J. We have concluded that the record does not contain substantial evidence that reasonable services were provided to Father, in that the Department did little to secure a psychotropic medication evaluation recommended for Father in a psychological evaluation, and failed to demonstrate that it could not reasonably be expected to do more. Accordingly, we will reverse the order terminating services to father.


In his dealings with the Department, Father reportedly exhibited several traits that interfered with his ability to safely and effectively care for his children. The evidence before the trial court at earlier hearings supported findings that Father tended to minimize potential hazards to the children, to resist advice or instruction concerning alternative parenting techniques, and to mistrust other persons necessarily involved in their care. (See K.C.2, supra, H037296 [pp. 11-13, 15, 16].) He also seemed to have some difficulty absorbing or retaining information. (Id. [p. 13].) His original case plan of April 7, 2011, expressed "a concern that you may suffer from mental health and/or cognitive functioning issues that can negatively impact your ability to parent appropriately." Accordingly, it directed him to "[p]articipate in one psychological evaluation[] by a Juvenile Court approved evaluator and follow any and all recommendations made by that evaluator including, but not limited to: participation in a medication assessment and/or participation in counseling (individual, family or otherwise)."

Father underwent a psychological evaluation in July 2011, leading to a written report in mid-September. The report noted that, according to Father's mother (Grandmother), he had a history of mental illness on his father's side; she said that " 'one of each generation on his dad's side has schizophrenia.' " The evaluator himself found that Father "present[ed] with an air[] of oddity" and "social discomfort," with "an aloof, paranoid and irritable style." He also "demonstrate[d] difficult[y] with concentration in tracking events and occurrence[s]." Father's responses to a "Parent Stress Index" showed "a strong endorsement of defensive responding with unusually high endorsement of 'difficult child', indicating significantly distressed parent-child dysfunctional interactions. It is fair to say he feels insecure in her [sic] ability to raise her [sic] child, and overwhelmed by the requirements of childrearing or childcare. His coping mechanisms present as deficient and in need of more education and further training."

The evaluator arrived at the following diagnosis: On Axis I, mood disorder with obsessive-compulsive features, subject to ruling out post-traumatic stress disorder, and coupled with "Identity Problem" and "Cannabis Abuse (by history)"; and on Axis II, "Paranoid Personality [D]isorder (preliminary)." The evaluator opined that Father "can parent, however, additional steps are necessary on his part to be safe to do so. Reunification services are recommended, as long as this parent is moving forward in helping himself to the resources made available to him." Services that "should be offered to treat the diagnosis" included "[m]edication and therapeutic management through psychotropic evaluation and treatment for possible mood and thought disorder."

The evaluator apparently faxed his report to the social worker on September 20, 2011. According to the latter, she discussed the matter with Father on September 30, at which time he told her, " 'You would have to tie me down to get me to take medication. I don't believe in the stuff.' " Nonetheless he met with her and her supervisor on October 14 to discuss "his willingness to follow through with the recommendations of the psychological evaluation." She later described Father as "tangential in his conversation, in some moments he would state, 'My life is fine. I am happy with my life. I don't see how medication would help me. I don't have any problems.' " At the end of the meeting, however, he "stated that he [wa]s willing to meet with a psychiatrist." On October 25, 2011, the social worker reported that she intended to "follow through with arranging an appointment with a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation."

At some point the social worker apparently sent a copy of Father's psychological evaluation to a public clinic, variously referred to below as "Adult Mental Health" and "County Access Team." She testified that she told Father to go the clinic and "ask about a medication evaluation based on the recommendations of that report." She instructed him to inform the clinic "that he was interested in medication, not that the Department was forcing him to, or that it was a court ordered thing to do." She testified that for a would-be patient to acknowledge acting under such direction was "[s]ometimes . . . a block . . . to get access with Adult Mental Health. It's important to go in and say he's interested for himself to get a medication evaluation."

Father made three visits to Adult Mental Health, apparently in late October and early November. "The first time he went," according to the social worker, "he told me that he went in and asked for a court ordered psychological evaluation. He was told that they don't do court ordered psychological evaluations. I asked him to--again, to try and go back again and that it's important to once again that he go in and say that he's coming in for himself to have this medication evaluation. And so he went again and had the same sort of encounter, that someone was telling him that he needed to come and that he didn't feel that he needed medication." After that she asked Father's therapist to accompany him on a third visit to Adult Mental Health. "They did go," she testified, "and again, my understanding is that the interview was pretty brief, because once again [Father] wasn't really asking for this help, he was just there as part of his case plan, part of what the Court had ordered him to do." Questioned by the court, she reaffirmed earlier testimony that, as summarized by the court, Father and his therapist had gone "to the County Access Team to seek meds. Because he did not meet their criteria and is not acknowledging mental health challenges they said they can't help him. They recommended he seek SSI."

According to the therapist's testimony when he accompanied Father to the clinic, a doctor told them that in the absence of symptoms more severe than Father's, and without "Medi-Cal or some other kind of funding source," Father would have had to "come in begging and pleading" in order to get the requested drug evaluation and treatment. The therapist testified that the clinic seemed to be looking for patients who were "fairly disheveled, kind of hearing voices, just off the streets, kind of scared, traumatized, probably looking like an untreated Vet almost." He understood the governing criterion to be "[a]ctive psychosis." The therapist believed the clinic had also "balked . . . a little bit" when Father "said he was court ordered to come into Adult Mental Health." He did not believe their criteria would have been met if Father had "show[n] up and said I have a diagnosis that's interfering with my ability to be a safe parent and I need assistance." "What the doctor said is he would need to be begging and pleading." The clinic advised Father to "just continue doing the things using other support you can get."*fn1

On November 9, 2011, a family therapist at the county department of mental health wrote a letter to no specified addressee confirming that Father had applied for services from that agency on October 27, at which time he "was assessed as not meeting this agency's criteria for treatment services, and given referrals to other therapy resources." On November 8, Father had presented himself again, "reporting that he had once again been instructed to come here for assessment and services. My meeting with him was essentially a repeat of the earlier contact, [Father] not evidencing symptoms of major mental illness meeting this agency's criteria for services, nor disclosing significant treatment history as an adult. It was clear that [Father] was here only in response to the recommendations of other parties to the case at issue, and would not have sought treatment on his own."

On January 30, 2012, after a hearing that took up parts of two days, the court made findings as to both children that reasonable services had been provided to both parents and that there was "no probable cause for return as to the minor's father," such that reunification services to him must be terminated. As to Mother, however, the court found "substantial cause for return," and ordered that she receive another six months of services. ...

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