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CA Court: Parents can lose custody even if there is no neglect

Last month, California’s Supreme Court determined that the state can take unruly kids away from their parents even if there is no finding of parental neglect and the parents are doing everything they can to control the children.

This particular case revolved around a state statute that allows the court to assume control of a child if he or she “has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness, as a result of the failure or inability of his or her parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child."

While this law is often used in cases involving parental abuse or neglect, the court ultimately determined that the state can take custody of a child even if the parent isn’t neglectful. Simply put, if a child is facing a substantial risk of harm and the parent is unable to protect or supervise the child — regardless of whether the parent is to blame — then the state can assume custody of the child.

Facts of the case

This case — which was titled In re R.T. — involved a young girl who began running away from home at age 14 and often refused to attend school. At one point, she even falsely reported that her mother abused her.

While the mother did everything she could to control her daughter, including sending the girl to live with her maternal grandparents, the girl’s incorrigible behavior continued. The court even acknowledged the mother’s concerted and desperate attempts to protect and discipline her daughter, though they were unsuccessful.

Ultimately, the court was asked to determine whether a parent must be blameworthy in some way for being unable to protect a child before the court can assume control of that child. Or, is the parent’s failure or inability alone reason enough, regardless of whether the parent or child is to blame?

In the end, the court held that state law does not require a finding of fault on the parent’s part, but instead just a determination that the parent is unable to keep a child from harm, even if the child is to blame.

If this case illustrates one thing, it is how much power the state has when it comes to the custody of our children — a fact that may scare many parents.

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