Monday, February 05, 2018

In Re J.G. (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 5, 2018)

This is sufficiently depressing that I'm almost inclined not to mention it.

Four very little kids -- the oldest was four years old -- were removed from their parents.  For good reason.  In full view of the kids, Father ran over and killed Mother.  OMG.

Father's sister (Aunt) then moves to get custody of the kids, and the court awards it.  The opinion gives a ton of detail about what happens to the children while they're in Aunt's home.  One -- very bland -- sentence will instead suffice:  "We agree and conclude that the court abused its discretion in ordering the children to remain with a caregiver who failed to provide adequate food to them, causing serious injury to the health and well-being of the three youngest children."

Yikes.  Times three.

You can get a sense of what transpired by how the Court of Appeal characterizes these events later in the opinion.  "The record clearly shows that Aunt failed to provide P.G., D.G., and J.G. with adequate food and that she intentionally limited the children's food portions. As a result, the younger children were diagnosed with nonorganic failure to thrive. P.G. was severely malnourished, dehydrated, and lethargic, and had to be hospitalized for almost two weeks. D.G. and J.G. were also severely malnourished. They had postgrowth arrest lines on their bones, which occurs when the body stops building bone in response to malnutrition. D.G. and J.G. displayed food insecurity. Dr. Young testified that P.G., D.G., and J.G. essentially stopped growing. In addition, she believed that malnourishment may have affected their brain development. Dr. Young said that the younger children all had significant loss in growth potential. She characterized Aunt's treatment of them as "starvation.""

To be clear:  This is not a case of a deliberate intent to harm.  Aunt thought that the children were overweight.  That's indeed sometimes a problem with kids in the modern era.  Maybe even, initially, here.

But that doesn't matter.  At least to the result here.  "The record shows that Aunt willfully failed to provide the younger children with adequate food and nutrition, resulting in their diagnoses of severe malnutrition and nonorganic failure to thrive. That Aunt may have lacked the intent to harm the children does not mitigate her failure to provide adequate food to them. (§ 300, subd. (b).) We therefore conclude that the court erred in determining that it was safe for the children to remain in Aunt's care because she did not intend to starve them."

As Justice Aaron ends her opinion:

"Adequate nutrition and food security is an essential need for any person, particularly a young child whose proper growth and development depends on such sustenance, and in turn, on the caregiver to provide it. Here, the uncontroverted evidence shows that Aunt failed to provide the younger children with a fundamental necessity of life—adequate food, and that she failed to appreciate the impact of her actions on their health. Further, there was no indication that Aunt was able or willing to alter her behavior in this regard. The impact of malnutrition on the children's growth and development, and well-being, outweighs any other benefits that the younger children received in Aunt's care."