Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Jennifer R. v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 4, 2012)

I guess I can get on board with the California Court of Appeal's finding in this case that the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency didn't do all it could to help Mother (Jennifer) deal with her methamphetamine problem, and that she was accordingly entitled to a stay in the determination as to whether to take her child (James) away from her permanently.  The Agency did some things, but I agree that they could have done more.

Though here's how Justice Huffman describes Mother:  "The record shows Jennifer was highly motivated to participate in services.  She completed her court-ordered case plan.  Jennifer's visits with James were regular, affectionate, and loving. . . . The social worker acknowledged Jennifer was willing to participate in substance abuse treatment from the beginning of the case."

Pretty glowing, eh?

Just remember that this is the same Jennifer who already lost custody of an older child due to her continuing abuse of methamphetamine.  Then, after getting clean, started using again, and then lost custody of her second child.  Then, after James was born, continued to hang out -- and protect -- the father of James, A.B.  A guy who choked her while she was holding James, causing her to pass out and drop James to the floor face-first.  Who bailed A.B. out of jail after this incident.  Who continued to live with him -- a guy who has been arrested 20 to 30 times, and who's regularly used meth (and continues to do so) for the past thirty three years.  Who, during the pendency of the case, stabbed Jennifer in the neck, nearly severing a major artery, while high on meth, and in response to which Jennifer waited 12 hours to seek medical attention -- and told the social worker that the underwire on her bra might have caused the injury -- in order to avoid getting A.B. in trouble.  Oh, did I mention that both A.B. and Jennifer were high on meth at the time?  They were.  Jennifer also tested positive for meth several months later.  She said it was from "cold medicine".  Right.  The same cold medicine A.B. has been taking for thirty three years.  Sure, Jennifer eventually obtains outpatient substance abuse treatment in April.  But stops going in July -- one month before the court hearing at issue.

This is the Jennifer who's "highly motivated to participate in services"?

It's not that I don't feel sorry for Jennifer.  I do.  She's a serious victim of domestic violence.  She's got major depression issues.  She's got an addiction she's finding difficult or impossible to quit, even after losing two kids and about to lose a third.  She's made incredibly bad choices, especially regarding A.B.  She's never going to stay clean while she's with him, and she can't seem to leave him.

So should we try to help?  Definitely.  Could the Agency have done more?  Probably.  Is it worth it to give her yet another shot?  Maybe.  I get it.  She's definitely far from the worst caregiver you see in these sorts of cases.

But let's not sugarcoat things.  She's far from a model parent.  She's not someone who's consistently done everything we ask her to do and only needs the tiniest of helping hands.  She's got a problem and she's only been sporadic -- not "highly motivated" -- in trying to solve it.  And let's be honest.  She's likely to lose her third child no matter what we do.  Because, in the end, she's likely going to choose the pipe and A.B. over her child.

Lastly, don't forget who we care most about here.  The kid.  James.  He got dropped face-first on the floor.  The back of his head was flat -- a classic symptom of neglect (i.e., you're left on your back so routinely while your parents smoke meth that your skull deforms).  While he was in foster care, he went from the third percentile in weight -- neglect, again -- to the 50th.  He's the one we care most about.  And his life, if we're honest, is a lot better apart from his mother (and A.B.) than with them.

So let's not lose sight of the big picture.  Even if, as here, it may make sense to hold that Jennifer's entitled to another shot.  The same shot she was given -- and ignored -- with her two other kids.

I wish I could be more optimistic.  But I'm not.