Superior Court of San Diego County Denies Family Reunification to Mother with Brain Injury
Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation
On January 29, 2021, the Superior Court of San Diego County denied a mother’s request to have her daughter returned to her from state custody. The mother (anonymously named “B.B.” in court filings) suffers from impaired vision and mobility as a result of several strokes in adolescence and was also diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder. She argued that the state had not provided her with reasonable services before termination of custody. The Superior Court rejected this argument.
Upon the birth of her daughter (“H.B.”) in February 2019, hospital staff raised concerns about B.B.’s ability to safely care for her child. B.B. required a personal caregiver and was unable to perform necessary childcare tasks without assistance. The staff contacted the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, who initially petitioned for juvenile dependency but later recommended reunification when B.B. arranged for 24-hour caregivers to assist with her daughter’s care.
In July 2019, caregivers expressed concern when H.B. hit her head after being dropped by her mother. B.B. attempted to leave with her daughter before paramedics arrived and later declined to follow their advice. The event sparked concern about B.B.’s judgement and decision-making and the court detained H.B. under the care of a non related family member.
Following the removal of H.B. from the home, B.B. underwent psychological evaluation by Dr. Katherine Ellis, Ph.D. She was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder and cognitive impairment. Dr. Ellis recommended individual and conjoint therapy for paranoid personality disorder focusing on accountability and coping and communication skills. In November 2019, the court approved the Agency’s case plan for B.B. to participate in a domestic violence program, individual counseling, and a parenting program, but denied her request for a visitation coach. In October 2020 the court ruled that B.B. had not made substantial progress and that she was “wholly dependent on other caregivers to parent” and had “huge reluctance” to acknowledge her own limitations. The court set a Welfare and Institutions Code section 322.26 hearing for H.B. and terminated reunification services.
B.B. filed a petition challenging the October order, claiming that she was not provided with reasonable services before the court set the hearing. She testified that she requested a visitation coach and a new therapist several times after feeling that her therapist assigned by the Agency was not helping her. B.B. believed she was being taken advantage of by the Agency due to her disability. The Agency stated that B.B. typically denied accountability for H.B.’s dependency and believed the Agency removed H.B. from her care based on disability discrimination.
Regarding reunification services, “the standard is not whether the services provided were the best that might be provided in an ideal world, but whether the services were reasonable under the circumstances.” The court decided that B.B. lacked sufficient evidence to prove that she was not provided with reasonable services as set forth in her case plan and denied the petition.
Keywords: California, brain injury, personality disorder, cognitive disability
This post is the 92nd post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.